Gardening 101
March 1, 2020 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Gardening newbie, looking to grow some herbs in my backyard.

Moved into our current house last year, and there's a gardening box in the backyard that I'd like to use for growing some herbs. What is the best resource to learn from? Websites, books, YouTube channels?

I have read that herbs should be started indoors at first, but I don't really have a space there that would be safe from our curious cat.

I'm in zone 6b if it matters, and here is a picture of the box outside.

posted by cozenedindigo to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Thyme, sage, tarragon, chives: perennials that should come back year after year in your zone. Buy plants from a nursery or plant sale.
Parsley, basil: plant new every year. Look for 4 packs of young plants. Parsley in particular is difficult to start from seed.
Dill, cilantro: plant seeds directly in the garden. You can extend the harvest by planting a bit every 3 to 4 weeks.
Rosemary cannot take extended hard frosts. I grow one in a large pot and bring it in every fall.

Your set up looks great for separating the perennials and annuals into the two sections. Are there any others you would like to grow?
posted by Botanizer at 4:40 PM on March 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I grow and eat basil, cilantro, parsley. Buy seeds, read the directions; they are usually quite accurate. Herb plants can be expensive, except for the grocery store basil plants with a ton of stems you can separate out and transplant. Basil loves sunshine, and fresh pesto is fantastic. Cilantro will grow nicely, pinch back any flowers. It will go to seed, so it's nice to plant a few seeds every week or 2 for a month or so to ensure steady supply. Parsley will grow this year, and again next year.
Also perennials sage and chives. Both are really pretty.
My thyme usually comes back, some years I have to re-plant.
You can pick up a jalapeƱo plant and it won't take a lot of room.
It's a fair bit of space. I like to grow some arugula and leaf lettuce for salad; it's nice to plant a few seeds every week or 2 to ensure steady supply, though in high summer, it may give up.

It's so satisfying, have fun.
posted by theora55 at 5:00 PM on March 1, 2020

Botanizer's got it. One ammendum that I've learned the hard way- Mint doesn't play nice with others and must always be by itself. So if you want Mint- put it in a pot.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:01 PM on March 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a pretty seasoned gardener and the only herbs I grow from seed are the ones that are hard to find as seedlings. Cost/benefit just does not work out if you pay $2.50 for a packet of 98% more seeds than you actually need, then have to baby your seedlings in non-ideal conditions for two months, all to get just the few herb plants that anyone really needs unless you're running a restaurant. Better to pay $4 per fully started and ready-to-plant seedling raised by experts. I do most of my veggies from seed but it's just not worth it to do it with herbs. Find a local nursery, you'll get bigger, healthier seedlings earlier than you could start yourself. Because you don't have to wait for your herbs to flower and fruit, if you plant a healthy, good-sized herb seedling from a nursery, you could be enjoying fresh basil on your pasta by the next Sunday dinner.

How much sun does your box get? A lot of the culinary herbs we're most familiar with are Mediterranean in origin and like sun and well-drained soil.

Mint propagates with runners and is an unkillable weed. Most other common culinary herbs are annuals in 6b, unless you luck out with a mild winter/protected placement.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:12 PM on March 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

I agree with soren_lorenson with one LARGE caveat- dill in particular is super duper fragile when transplanted so sowing from seed is best. Also rarer herbs sometimes are hard to find at garden stores so seeds it's got to be. But I generally get plants except for dill which I sow.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:34 PM on March 1, 2020

You have plenty of space for doing a bit more than herbs if you would like- it looks like 2 probably 2 foot by 8 foot beds? One could be perennial herbs and the other one could be a couple hot peppers (jalepeno and cayenne) as someone mentioned, as well as a bed of basil for making big batches of pesto for putting in the freezer.

A fun herb to put in since you have the space is lemon verbena. Even if you just crush it between your fingers to smell it when you are out in the garden, it is a lovely and unique scent. You can also make ice cream!

You can also ditch the fence- nothing eats herbs. They taste good to us because they have chemicals that taste terrible to herbivores.
posted by rockindata at 6:38 PM on March 1, 2020

Best answer: Experienced gardener here who also buys allllmost all herbs as seedlings as well. The only things I start from seed are things that are hard to find, or stuff I'm deliberately growing indiscriminately to support birds and pollinators. Also, it's really easy to go from "I should start some seeds" to "I have just purchased enough equipment to run a grow op in my dining room" in the blink of an eye. Additionally, especially in your first year, you're better off buying whatever your local garden center stocks for your area. Gardening is all about trial and error so for the first several years you're just chucking stuff at the ground and seeing what happens.

I also agree you've got ample space for a few tomatoes and peppers in the back and herbs in the front. That fence might actually serve to deter the neighborhood cats from using it as a litter box, so you may need to keep it. Pick up 4 2cf bags of container soil and two bags of compost or composted manure, spread one bag of poop in each box and then 2 bags of soil each, to refresh the boxes, and then plant in that.

You might consider picking up a seed pack of pollinator mix, butterfly mix, hummingbird mix to scatter around your plants - those you can just fling down as soon as you're past last frost. It creates a bit of chaos but if you're going to garden at all you should pay your dues to the local workforce.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:53 PM on March 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, my go-to youtube channel is CaliKim. She and I are in zone 9/10 so she's doing things you won't be able to do but she's good about talking about shorter-season options, and she's working mostly with raised beds and containers. She often partners with The Rusted Garden, who's in I think the same zone as you are, and he's just started a newbie guide series. MIGardener is also in a similar zone.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:57 PM on March 1, 2020

Nthing basil-- it likes full sun and LOTS of water, especially in its young days.

Thyme and oregano will self-seed and spread. Rosemary will grow huge if it's happy, so plant it where it won't shade everything else. It will also bear loads of blue flowers that the bees love.

Bees also love lavender, and it will smell good after rain.

Bulbs of garlic will flourish, as will spring onions/scallions.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:59 PM on March 1, 2020

Those are nice raised beds. The picture you've taken looks like they are in shade when the sun is up. How much sun do those beds get? Herbs need at least 8-10 hours of direct sun to do well.

Are the sides of the raised beds made of treated wood? If so, I would hesitate to eat anything grown in them.

I buy most of my herbs pre-grown, in 4" (per side) pots. Parsley takes forever to start from seed (like a month?!) and tarragon will never grow true and flavorful from seed. I get mine from the farmer's market, garden centers, and the grocery store, for things like basil, parsley, and cilantro. If you want to order specialist herbs, the Seed Savers' Exchange has starts in the spring. (You don't need to be a member to order.)

If you like cilantro, it's best to buy some plants from the grocery store, then sow some seeds around its feet. You can sow some cilantro seeds now, and then they will come up when they want.

Most herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay) prefer well-drained soil, so I would mix in some perlite or vermiculite into the top 10-12" of soil to improve drainage, if you don't have well-drained soil already. Well-drained soil will help improve the hardiness of your plants over winter.

Since these raised beds are outside, weeds might be a problem. You may want to refer to a book called Weedless Gardening. TL;DR. apply layers of biodegradable materials to the surface of the soil to suppress weeds.

Many herbs don't like nutrient-rich soils, so a layer of paper (like the brown kind laid down to protect floors from paint) and some straw and wood chips may be sufficient.

If you get good sun in that bed in the wintertime, and you have good drainage, consider planting saffron bulbs among your herbs. They flower in the fall, after the herbs have done their thing, in October in zone 7, and stay green as long as they can in the winter. For a small garden's worth of bulbs, it's not hard to harvest the stamens each morning as the flowers bloom, and it's a lovely and unusual addition to an herb garden.
posted by Lycaste at 7:47 PM on March 1, 2020

I am in 6a/6b. On a whim we bought bronze fennel and lemongrass at a local nursery and both have done fantastically. The fennel goes to seed eventually and while it's not a huge harvest it's entertaining to say I've grown my own fennel seed. We harvested the lemongrass at the end of the season and froze at least a gallon ziplock worth of stems. We grow it each year because it's pretty, but we don't use a ton of it and the harvest from one year would have lasted several years. We also grew dill one summer. We decided not to grow it again but it self-seeded to make volunteers.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:41 PM on March 3, 2020

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