According to a 2006 national gardening survey (garden.org), more than 14 million households in the United States grow herbs. Different types of herbs include annuals (live one season), perennials (foliage dies back in fall and re-grows in spring), and biennials (live two seasons).
Home herb gardeners can enjoy fresh harvested flavor and experience the farm-to-table experience. “Most people today are more aware of what they’re putting into their bodies. What else is better than growing your own herbs? You know where it came from and what went into it,” says Maggie Bridge, manager of sales and marketing at Sam Bridge Nursery and Greenhouses (sambridge.com) in Greenwich. “Herbs are fun to grow. They perform well and have a high yield. Any plant you can use in addition to admiring its natural beauty is always a plus.” Maggie’s valuable advice: Pick a sunny spot. “Most edible plants prefer to have four to six hours of strong sun. Sun from 12 p.m. on is the strongest. If growing inside, pick whichever spot provides the most sun.”
Along with plenty of sunlight, the key to growing herbs is well-drained soil and air circulation, notes Sal Gilbertie, owner of Gilbertie’s Herb Garden (gilbertiesherbs.com) in Westport. “Herbs are a fun plant and there are many varieties available. They’re easier to grow than flowers and they give so much back,” says Sal, advising home gardeners to be alert to fungus. “Fungus comes from wetness, darkness, and lack of air circulation, so give herbs sun and space, and don’t water them in the afternoon or evening hours. Water the soil, not the foliage,” Sal explains, with the recommendation to grow herbs indoors only if there is a bay window and to use a small fan for air circulation.
Maggie says almost all herbs are easy to grow. Basil, dill, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and parsley are most common. “Herbs just need lots of sun and regular watering. Depending on whether the herbs are planted in a container or in the ground, water requirements can vary. It can go from once daily to every few days. Let them dry to the touch before watering. Use your fingers to feel how wet the soil is. If the soil is damp, you can wait. If dry, go ahead and water,” she says. Overwatering can cause poor growth and disease.
Outdoors, plant herbs in containers, raised beds, hanging baskets, flower gardens, and window boxes. “Don’t overstuff your containers and beds. Give them a little breathing room. You can use any container for indoor gardening. Make sure you have a saucer big enough to catch the overflow or water them in the sink. Make sure your plants aren’t sitting in water,” Maggie advises. Hherbs prefer the outdoors; indoors they don’t receive the maximum amount of sunlight, which can result in an off-color, stretched plant. Indoors, use grow lights to help get the most out of plants.
“Customers are requesting exotic herbs such as stevia, which is a natural sweetener, and they’re using herbs like tansy and citrosa as insect repellants,” says Jane Flader, nursery manager at Benedict’s Home & Garden in Monroe. Jane believes it’s easier for beginners to start with plants, rather than seeds. “They’re more robust, produce quicker, and offer instant gratification.” Benedict’s sells four different seed brands and carries certified, naturally derived organic herbs.
Pamper your plants
When growing herbs, Jane says to be nurturing. “Our plants come in healthy. It’s how you grow them and sustain them that you’ll get the best optimum outcome. If you don’t know how to take care of them, they can get long and lanky.” For both inside- and outside-grown herbs, she advises using a medium Pro-Mix, predominantly peat moss/vermiculite-based for drainage, and a pot with space for the plant’s root development. “Starting herbs indoors and then putting them outside on your deck or planted in a garden offers better growing conditions. If you’re lacking room, herbs grow very well in containers. A raised bed is ideal because it has warmer soil and you get production sooner,” she explains. If planting outdoors, space the plants at least 18 inches apart so they have room to grow. Jane says it’s safe to put herbs outside after the frost date, usually mid-May.
“A lot of the culinary herbs are aesthetic and medicinal, too,” Jane concludes. “However you use herbs, you’ll feel good about growing them yourselves.”
Goat Cheese Cigarette
Recipe courtesy of Chef Bernard Bouissou, Bernard’s,bernardsridgefield.com.
1 log of goat cheese
1 T, chopped chives
1 T. chopped parsley
1 t. chopped tarragon
Salt and pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 package of Feiulle de brick or 1 package spring roll wrappers
1/2 c. butter melted
1 c. canola blend oil for frying
Mix goat cheese, herbs, salt and pepper and olive oil in mixer until smooth. Put into pastry bag with a round tip.
If using Feiulle de brick, cut it into 4 pieces each; if using spring roll wrappers, cut them in half diagonally.
Brush with melted butter and pipe a line of cheese about 1/4 inch in from the edge and roll. These can now be frozen.
Saute in oil to order — they are best done when the cheese is still frozen.