Grow your own cooking herbs to add fresh zest and flavor to your menus year-round!
Is It a Cooking Herb or a Spice?
The first thing to know in selecting which herbs to grow is the difference between cooking (culinary) herbs and spices. The cinnamon stick you put in your hot chocolate or apple cider is a spice while the parsley on the edge of your plate is an herb.
Cooking herbs are usually the fresh or dried leaves of plants while spices are the ground seeds, roots, fruits, flowers, and/or bark.
Herbs grow very well in temperate zones, while spices generally come from tropical areas.
Herbs add subtle flavor, whereas spices are generally more pungent and add more robust flavor.
Herbs run the gamut of about 70 cultivars, broken into categories of medicinal, ornamental, and aromatic as well as culinary or cooking herbs. To start growing cooking herbs, it's best first to select where and how you want to grow them.
Most cooking herbs thrive in just about any location that gives them plenty of light, good drainage and nutrition. In addition to outdoor garden spots, culinary herbs can be grown in patio containers, as indoor herb gardens, or in greenhouses using soil-less growing techniques like hydroponics or aquaponics.
Outdoor Cooking Herb Gardens
For easy access, plant your herb garden as close to your kitchen as possible. Herbs grown in full sun have denser foliage, darker color, and higher levels of the essential oils that add flavor to your recipes. Good air circulation and drainage are also important to the success of your cooking herb garden. The size of your cooking herb garden, of course, depends on the space you have available for growing. Generally, an area 20 by 4 feet accommodates a satisfactory variety of cultivars.
Many herbs overlap in category. Border your cooking herb garden with some cultivars that have ornamental or aromatic qualities as well as the culinary. However, remember that the main purpose of this garden is for use in your kitchen.
Place cooking herbs that you use frequently in less conspicuous areas so that you won't leave big holes in your garden when you harvest them for cooking!
Most culinary herbs thrive under the same growth conditions as the vegetables they enhance and as such are a natural addition to your vegetable garden. Some cooking herbs even have properties that repel common insect pests and garden diseases, which is an added benefit to your vegetables.
The best time to amend soil with nutrient rich compost is when you till your garden plot. Herbs have coarse roots that benefit from chunky organic matter, which helps excess water drain away and also helps provide good air circulation.
After planting your cooking herbs, skirting them with a two to three-inch layer of mulch helps soil retain moisture. In addition, composting and mulching helps you maintain the neutral to slightly alkaline soil that most herbs prefer
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