I never had a green thumb. Like up until 3 or 4 years ago I was able to pretty much kill anything with roots that was brought into my house. Which is odd, really. My parents are borderline gardening fetishists. They have entire rooms & areas of their house dedicated to their jungle. Dad even has a little nursery in the garage where he grows things from seed and nurses sick plants back to health. Their yard & garden are a-maz-ing. Someday I will get over there and take some pics of their deck and gardens in full bloom. Gorgeous.
Regardless of all these good gardening genes I have always been a murder of plants. I overwater, I underwater, they don’t get enough light…end result all the same, dead plants. I had pretty much given up. Then we got a rubber tree. And against all odds, it lived. We started doing some gardening in the yard. That, too, lived. Maybe the curse can be broken? Sorta…
A few years ago we tried a full garden. That was pretty much an irritating fail. Wasn’t the garden’s fault in as much as we didn’t go out to weed often enough. We decided a full garden just wasn’t our thing, farmer’s markets are much more our pace, so we started doing a couple of tomato plants in barrels and I started to grow a bunch of herbs on our porch. We seem to do ok with our flower gardens – but we stick to mainly perennials and plan our beds for minimal maintenance as best we can; we have accepted and embraced our lack of gardening ambition while still having a pretty yard.
Unlike the rest of our house, the porch gets perfect sun for growing all sorts of herbs and flowers. It even gets a varied amount of sun with parts getting a ton and others getting much less so I can have lots of things out there and all of them can be happy. The herbs are my favorite. I started out with basil, rosemary & cilantro and have built it up to 10 different herbs this year.
I love to cook with fresh herbs; having an arsenal of them outside my front door? Pretty damn awesome. My goal this year is to keep them all happy and producing through the summer so I can have an indoor herb garden come fall that will also be happy and producing through winter that can go back outside next spring and so on and so on… I’ve managed to keep rosemary alive before, but this will be a challenge. This year I have potted ~ Chives, Italian Basil, Spicy Basil, Greek Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender, Marjoram, Flat Leaf Parsley and Cilantro.
I don’t plant a ton of any of them. I plant the basils heavy because I use a lot, but the rest its a simple matter of maintenance and they give me all of the yummy I could ever possibly want or need. The only thing I haven’t gotten to yet, and I am kind of out of space so I doubt it will happen, are some beds to grow fresh lettuces and greens in. We haven’t quite figured out a location that will deter the deer & bunnies in our neighborhood from feasting. A project for next year!
Anyone who cooks at home and has the space can plant their own herb pots and I am walking proof you need not have gardening talent to be successful at it. Seriously. I still don’t have a for real green thumb, it’s more like a tinge of green. I have gotten better at keeping things alive. Which is apparently enough.
I bought all my herbs & flowers from a couple local nurseries – Bedners & Janoskis. I have never been able to grown jack from a seed. I know it’s cheaper. For some people. For me it just means a month or two of trying to make the stupid seeds sprout into healthy seedlings that I can transplant for that not to happen so I go out and buy the herbs anyway. After trying that for a couple years I accepted that all seeds hate me, except bulbs, and just buy all of the healthy & strong herbs I want and save myself the aggravation.
I plant them in a blend of bought garden soil & compost, fertilize every 4-6 weeks with an organic fertilizer and do not use any kind of pesticide or anything else. They get watered every day or 2 depending on the weather and are all in well drained pots so I can’t kill them by drowning.
The key to keeping them producing is trimming. Constant trimming. I usually go out every few days if I haven’t been using them and snip a little. In general you want to cut off the pieces that are ready to be used so the new growth will keep growing. Even with parsley & cilantro as you trim off the taller stalks new ones sprout to take their place. Rosemary can be trimmed to a shape, the thyme will come in full and bushy instead of thin & scraggly. Think about the work a plant does to keep it alive; trimmed up means less work keeping far away parts alive spurring new and healthier growth.
So what the fudge are you supposed to do with all these herbs or greens you are trimming, are showing up in your CSA baskets or are buying at the market? All greens, event delicate lettuces & herbs, have a much longer shelf life if stored properly and I would venture to say most people don’t because they don’t know how.
First Rule of Greens ~ water is the enemy – dry before storing in the fridge. A salad spinner is nice, I don’t personally have one so I lay them out on paper towels & pat dry before storing if I absolutely MUST rinse before putting away or if I get it soaking wet. Usually I just clean right before I use whatever it is and dry if it is appropriate, like salad greens.
Somewhat Related – to grocery stores that are hosing down their produce as it sits in cases on their shelves so it looks all glistening – NO! BAD GROCERY STORE! BAD GROCERY STORE! They do it because water is associated, in most shopper’s minds, with freshness. What they are actually doing is killing their stock slowly by lessening its life in our refrigerators. For greens especially that much water is deadly, making it wilt faster, get that green slime quicker and robs it of any crispness.
Second Rule of Greens ~ smothering in plastic is bad. I know they say air is the enemy, but it really isn’t. Greens need to be able to breath, so pressing them as air tight as possible in a ziplock baggie is really doing them no favors. It is bruising the delicate leaves and speeding up the going bad process.
Third Rule of Greens ~ Moisture is key to life! I know I said ‘wet’ was bad, but ‘wet’ & ‘moisture’ are not the same thing. The best way to store greens is wrapped in or covered with a damp paper towel. If you are only storing a little wet a towel, wrap the bunch up, place in a plastic bag and shut it loosely. If it is a larger amount place in a bin or container and cover with a damp paper towel and store in the fridge. Rewet the towel as needed.
Fourth Rule of Greens ~ Be gentle. Most greens and herbs are delicate, rough handling leads to bruising and bruising leads to a faster death. Also whole will always last longer than cut, so think before you prep to avoid spoilage.
Even if you follow all the rules for storage sometimes greens and herbs will wilt. When they do it is pretty easy to fix, dunk in some cold water to refresh and then dry again; this usually brightens them back up and puts some crispness back.
Thanks for taking a trip into my herb garden with me! My porch has become pretty much my favorite place on earth with all the planting we have gotten done in the last couple weeks. I started trimming things up this week, stuff was finally getting big enough I needed to, and I did a happy dance that I FINALLY can quit spending stupid amounts of money on those ridiculous little fresh herb things at the grocery store.
Now if there was only a way I could talk the tomato & pepper plants into giving me their delicious faster. Gardening is for patient people, I think that may why I tend to suck at it. What kind of stuff do you have going in your gardens/porches/flower boxes?
This is soooo helpful! I don’t have a gardening “mentor” so I’ve managed to kill any and everything since living on my own. I didn’t know I could store them in wet paper towels OR that I should be pruning constantly. I can see now where I need to make some changes!!!! xoxo
My mom still just shakes her head at my complete inability to deal with plant life. She & my dad are my plant medics when I need them :) The trimming has worked really well for me at keeping them healthy and giving me LOTS of herbs to work with. Happy gardening!
Hey, great article. Another good way to herbs fresh — treat them as flowers at the florist — the trimmings should be long enough to put in water — a vase! I do this with asparagus too. Find the appropriately sized container, add h2o and keep in the fridge.
Ahh yes! See, I have this ‘I knock things over a lot’ problem that when paired with a packed refrigerator issue usually equals water everywhere, but very, very true – the flower method of storage is definitely an awesome one! Thanks for mentioning it!
I need to grow some herbs, I think. I did a few years ago and it worked well. I kill everything else, but other than the cilantro turning into coriander? I had success! Love the pictures!
The trimming is what stops that, but cilantro is by far, in my experience, the one that happens to the fastest. I trim my cilantro twice as often as any of the others to keep it from going to seed.
Speaking of coriander, I crushed some in a mortar & pestle the other day for a spice rub for the first time and the aroma was DIVINE. Like I would like to have a candle that smells like that. It was a different aroma from any form of coriander I have ever used. Random ;)