Few pursuits are as rewarding as growing your own organic garden. Not only do you get to enjoy the fruits of your own labor, but you have the satisfaction of knowing that the produce you are eating was grown free of chemicals, pesticides and herbicides. Growing organically produces healthy, more diverse ecosystems which are better able to resist significant pest damage… naturally!
One of the few perennial vegetable crops! Home gardeners are growing asparagus virtually everywhere in the United States, except Florida and the Gulf Coast, where conditions are too wet or too mild to satisfy its dormancy requirements.
Tender shoots are picked as young spears in the spring. Later in the season the foliage matures into a delicate fern which changes to a golden color in the fall. Plants can be productive for 15 or more years if given proper care.
Provide as much sun as possible and a sandy, fast draining soil for the plants. Poor drainage will cause the roots to rot. Keep the roots 12-18 inches away from fences and sidewalks. It loves plenty of water. Beds of asparagus will fill in over the years. Many gardeners with space imitations use asparagus as a border or hedge plant. (more…)
Native to the Mediterranean, growing artichokes (Cynara scolymus) requires cool nights and warm days. Aside from providing delicious, tender thistles for the table, the plants themselves are gorgeous! They grow to 5 feet across and almost as high with beautiful gray fuzzy foliage.
Each spring, mix compost into your growing area. Artichokes require sandy, fast draining soil and cool temperatures to thrive. They need regular water for an ample harvest, but if you just like the look of the plant and don’t want the thistles for your table, they will survive on very little water. Artichokes are susceptible to freezing and do best where the temperature remains constant year round.
How to Plant:
Plant artichokes in a location in full sun from bare root stock in January or from container grown stock later in the spring. To grow artichokes in cold winter climates, protect the root with several inches of straw mulch or better yet, grow them in large containers and move to a protected location when the temperature drops. (more…)
Native to the western Mediterranean, herb gardeners are growing thyme (Thymus) as a landscape plant as well as for culinary purposes. With many varieties available on the market, it is one of the most versatile herbs and can be used to season any meat or vegetable. In earlier days, it was also believed that a concoction of beer and thyme could cure shyness. Hardy plants grow up to 18 inches tall. Perennial.
Thyme prefers full sun to light shade and a well-drained, dry soil amended with plenty of organic compost. Keep it sheltered from cold winds. The plant may not survive severe winters unless covered or heavily mulched. It does very well in containers.
Tip: Use thyme in the rock garden to cascade over walls. It also attracts beneficial insects. (more…)
A member of the daisy family, Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is the classic herb to accompany fish and poultry dishes. The long, narrow leaves, borne on upright stalks, are a shiny, dark green. Greenish or gray flowers may bloom in the fall. Aromatic plants grow 2-3 feet tall and tend to sprawl out later in the season. Perennial.
Note: Tarragon reportedly aids in digestion and when made as a tonic is said to soothe rheumatism, arthritis, and toothaches.
Growing tarragon requires full sun to partial shade and rich, sandy, well drained soil. The plant often fails due to soil that is too wet or acidic. It can be grown outside in gardens or in containers with good drainage in the greenhouse or on a windowsill. (more…)
Nature’s sweet secret. Used widely in South America and the orient, herb gardeners began growing stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) when the safety of artificial sweeteners came into question. Native to Paraguay, Stevia extracts are 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. Extremely low in calories and all natural. The FDA has approved its use as a dietary supplement. Plants grow 3-4 feet tall. Perennial, sometimes grown as an annual.
Stevia grows best in well drained rich soil and afternoon shade, especially in hot climates. Select a site that is protected from cool winds and harsh weather. This is a sub-tropical plant that should be protected, especially when nighttime temperatures fall below 50˚F. Prior to planting, dig in a balanced organic fertilizer or well-composted animal manure. Does well in containers and can be grown year round if given proper care. (more…)
A member of the mint family, sage (Salvia officinalis) is an ancient herb used in medicines to cure anything from broken bones and wounds to stomach disorders, including flatulence, as well as loss of memory. It is a traditional poultry seasoning, delicious baked in a low oven for forty-five minutes with onions, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Attractive plants grow 2-3 feet tall and are equally at home in herb gardens and in ornamental gardens. Hardy perennial.
Tip: Try layering a bed of sage on the grill and flavoring meat with its smoke.
Growing sage requires full sun (tolerates partial shade) and well drained, rich soil. Dig in plenty of compost or aged animal manure prior to planting.
How to Plant:
Sage seeds store and germinate poorly. When started from seed, it takes about 2 years to grow to mature size. Most gardeners start sage from cuttings or divisions, using the outer or newer growth. If growing from seed, sow indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. (more…)
Native to the Mediterranean and favored by many herb gardeners, growing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is popular for its medicinal and culinary qualities. As a decorative shrub, its rich aroma and blue-green, needle-like foliage makes it a favorite addition to any border. As a culinary herb, its leaves may be used fresh or dried to complement meat dishes, stews and vegetables. In ancient times, rosemary was associated with fidelity and memory. Tender perennial shrub grows 1-4 feet tall.
Like most Mediterranean herbs, rosemary can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions, but does best in light, well drained conditions. It requires plenty of light and protection from frost. Rosemary does very well in containers and can be grown in a sunny window, year-round. (more…)
A member of the carrot family, this cool-season, biennial herb is planted as an annual. When growing parsley (Petroselinum crispum) home gardeners often select between two common varieties; flat leaf and curled. Which type you choose depends on your taste. Flat leaf is used for cooking soups and stews, curled is used fresh as a garnish or in salads. Plants grow 10-20 inches tall and make a very nice border for the herb garden.
Note: An excellent source of vitamins and minerals (A, C, calcium and iron), this popular culinary herb is also known as a breath freshener.
Parsley requires ample water, well drained rich soil and afternoon shade, especially in hot climates. Prepare beds or rows with plenty of compost or aged manure, worked in to a depth of 6 inches.
Tip: Growing parsley will attract butterflies and beneficial insects to the garden. (more…)
Available in several varieties and cultivars, with each offering its own unique flavor and aroma, growing oregano (Origanum) is popular with many home gardeners. The culinary herb is often used in soups, salads, meat dishes and pizza, especially in Italian and Mexican cuisine. Hardy perennial plants grow 18-30 inches tall.
Like most Mediterranean herbs, oregano is very easy to grow and requires little water. Sandy soil is best, but the plant will grow in almost any garden conditions. It thrives in full sun (leaves may lose flavor when grown in shade) and a location sheltered from high winds. Most species can tolerate a moderate freeze. Mulch over the plant with compost, leaves or straw if winters are severe. (more…)
Stand back! Mint (Mentha) produces quickly and can be invasive in ideal conditions. As a result growing mint is perfect for the beginning gardener. One of the most popular herbs, it is known by its square stems and aromatic leaves. Plants are hardy perennials often attaining 3 feet in height.
Mint grows from underground runners and thrives on abundant water. It’s not fussy about soil or light, but ample water is mandatory for success. To prepare soil, dig in plenty of compost. Avoid using animal manures with weed seeds since weeding becomes difficult in an established mint patch.
How to Plant:
Although they may be grown from seed, it is a good idea to buy small plants of your choice to be sure of getting the variety you want. Space plants 1-2 feet apart in all directions and mulch to retain moisture and keep leaves clean. Mint is easy to propagate from cuttings. Older mint plantings can be divided up every 4-5 years. (more…)