If you’ve ever gone out to buy fresh herbs for a recipe, you’ll immediately understand why it makes sense to grow your own. Tiny packets of not-so-fresh thyme and oregano cost $1 – $3 in the market. And if you made the mistake of buying more than you could immediately use, your herbs would almost certainly spoil before you could use them in another meal.
Your herb garden is another story. Not only can it provide a wide array of fresh herbs — often year-round — you lose nothing by picking what you need — or more than you need. Pinching off leaves, or cutting them with a pruner, simply keeps the herbs in your garden healthy and neatly trimmed, much like when you get a hair cut. Need a little mint for your Mojito? Pinch off a few leaves. Making salsa? Snip back the cilantro. Bruschetta lovers will be delighted to realize that every time they snip off a basil top, the remaining plant grows bigger and more lush.
If you’re an urban gardener, another compelling benefit of a herb garden is that it doesn’t take up much space. Indeed, you can grow a very nice kitchen garden in a pot. Those fretting about the Zika virus will also be happy to know that putting a pot full of herbs on your porch may also deter mosquitoes, says Tony Kienitz, author of The Year I Ate My Yard. Why? The pests detest herbs with strong aromas including rosemary, basil, lemon balm, mint and lavender. Indeed, the herb citronella is the main ingredient in bug-repelling candles, he says. If you’re planning to sit outside and want to engage in a little pest-control, rub the leaves of these aromatic herbilicious bug repellents right before you decamp to the porch, he suggests.. It’s not perfect, of course. But neither is insect repellent and herbs smell considerably better.
Need a little help getting started? Here’s a step-by-step guide to starting a kitchen garden, complete with prices, herb placements and estimated break-even points.
Step One: Pick your herbs.
The best way to choose herbs for your garden is to look at what you eat. Here I selected oregano and thyme (to spice up pastas), rosemary (to flavor chicken and soups), cilantro (for salsa) and chives. Chives go in many dishes, but I bought them mainly for looks. When they’re mature, they have pretty pink flowers that will look great on my porch. The group cost $13 at the garden store. $1 for the small white pots and $4.99 each for the two quart-sized organic oregano and chive plants.
Step Two: Pick a pot; add potting soil
I find it’s best to avoid garden stores when buying glazed pots. Home goods and discount stores often have beautiful pots for half the price. I bought this 9-inch pot at Ross for $9. My potting soil is the Organic MiracleGro mix from Costco. (It cost about $10 for a giant bag. I’m going to guess I used 50 cents to a dollar’s worth here.) Fill your pot about half-way with soil before adding your plants.
Step three: Plant, fill & water
Chives and cilantro can grow pretty tall, so I put them in the back, placing the thyme, which is low growing and spills artistically over the edge of the pot, in the front and the oregano and rosemary in the middle. Once the plants are placed the way you like them, fill in the gaps with potting soil and water. Viola!
If I round up all the costs, including the soil and pot, my investment in this potted kitchen garden is $24. A quick visit to the market tells me that the “manager’s special” gets me tiny plastic-packets of herbs for $1.99 each. Egads. My herb garden only needs to deliver 12 good snips to break-even.