It is finally time to start planting gardens and I couldn’t be more pleased! I love the feeling of walking outside into the early sunlight on a spring or summer morning and smelling the sweet and savory aroma of a garden. I can’t speak for others, but for me a garden is not just a source of sustenance, but it is also one of relaxation, meditation, and a chance to just be present in the moment. Since we live in an apartment, that means a container garden on the back patio. I usually grow about 10 different herbs. Space is an issue, so I focus on the ones we like to cook with the most. Not only is a patio garden delicious, but it is also nice decor for the back balcony! Below is a picture of my patio garden in progress.
If you want to plant a garden, but feel as if you might not have a green thumb, let me calm your fears. Container gardening is relatively easy. They actually don’t require a lot of attention and there are always options with what you can do with them. If they are growing faster than you can keep up with, you can always make herb butters, spice rubs, pestos, or herb infused olive oils. That way you can store them until you are ready to use them and it gives you lots of opportunities to have amazing flavors in your foods. There are always options, but I have a feeling, that once you get started, your herbs won’t be able to grow fast enough to keep up with your appetite! Check out these tips to learn how to begin your garden. (I am so excited for you!)
Step 1: Make A List of Herbs You Want
Before you go to the store to purchase your plants, you really want to get your ducks in a row. You want to have an idea of what you want or you are going to be overwhelmed. Trust me on this. Your next priority should be to consider the amount of space you have. Make sure you can accommodate the amount of herbs you want and think about your budget. Herbs are about $5 – $10 each depending on the size and what you get. If you need herbs and equipment, then your initial investment is probably going to be over $100 for your first garden.
Step 2: Consider Your Environment
You need to really contemplate how much sunlight your plants are going to get based off of your space. Which direction does your patio face. If it faces north or south, you may not get as much sunlight as you think. Most herbs are full sun and need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. If your patio does not receive this much, then you might consider more partial sun herbs such as mint and cilantro. This will ensure their health and their ability to make food.
Zoning is important as well. Someone in South Texas is more than likely going to have longer seasons and be able to grow different herbs than someone in Michigan, or in another country. It is important to look up what zone you are in and what thrives where you live. Many herbs can grow almost anywhere but depending on the climate they may have shorter or longer seasons because most don’t respond well to frost and lack of sunlight.
Step 3: Decide What Equipment You Will Need
After you make your list, decide whether or not you need a structure to accommodate your garden. Will you need shelving? Will you need a wall garden? What equipment will you need for these things? It is important to have things ready when you bring your plants home. They are sort of like pets. You want them to have a comfortable place to come home to and you want to plant them right away.
If you have never had a container garden before, then you need to get pots for your plants. I usually stick with 8 inch, 10 inch, or 12″ inch clay pots. Herbs tend to thrive better in clay pots. Although, I have seen them fare well in ceramic ones too. Something to know about herbs is that they like dry environments and don’t appreciate saturated roots. My best experience with this has been when I water them every few days, approximately twice a week depending on the heat and humidity. Obviously when it gets hot, you will have to water them more often. Bottom line, you will have to pay attention to them. They will let you know.
Herbs also don’t do well in plastic or resin containers and don’t appreciate environments that stay wet and moist so be careful with soils that hold in moisture. They fair much better in environments that allow them to breathe. Don’t forget the saucers that go with them if you need them. Most of all, make sure you plant them in a container that is the right size for them, the cute little container you bought them in will not accommodate the plant once it starts getting bigger and it will die. Herbs should come with a little placard that tells you how much spacing they need, sunlight, etc.
Finally you will need garden tools. Below you will find a picture of mine. You don’t need all of these. Some I just have as a preference. The basics of what you will need are a spade (I suggest either a big one and a narrow one or one big one that is easy for scooping up a lot of soil for filling your pots), a hand trowel, gloves, watering can, and either scissors or a box cutter (to cut off packaging).
There are other things you can get if you feel that you need them. For example, if you know you are going to be on your knees a lot, I recommend a knee board or knee pads. A painting drop cloth is helpful too. I laid this down on my patio this year and potted my plants on top of it. When I was done I folded it up and threw it out. It was so easy, no sweeping and no upset neighbors underneath me!
Step 4: Choose Your Soil
You have a lot of options when you are choosing soil. If you go to Lowe’s or Home Depot, then I would just buy a bag of either the Miracle Grow soil for vegetables or the organic type. Whatever brand you choose, try to ensure that it is for vegetables so that they get the nutrients they need. However, if you go to a nursery, you can always ask them for advice.
Nursery’s tend to have more options for soil and the employees are much more knowledgeable about their products. Most of the time, the people who work at these establishments have a real passion for what they do and are very knowledgable. In addition to soil they usually have other options such as compost options. The best planting compound I ever used was a mushroom compost. My plants grew effortlessly all season and I got a great deal of production out of them. Just don’t be shy and ask for advice. They will steer you in the right direction.
Step 5: Plant Your Herbs
So, the moment is finally here in my post to plant your herbs! Planting the herbs is not too difficult. Make sure you read the instructions. Some containers will require removal of the plant, but some won’t. Fill your pot about halfway and make sure that all of the roots will be covered before you finish filling it once you place the plant in. Once the plant is all tucked in its potted soil, make sure to water it and get it off on the right foot.
Step 6: Watch the Weather
It seems as if every year, I buy herbs, I have to buy them sometime between February and April. This is because most stores and nursery’s are typically sold out by mid April. The problem with this is in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area, it is still getting pretty cold at night. A frost would be a blessing in February, but most years we are under snow. So, I have to get creative.
Since, many herbs can’t handle a frost or anything under 50°F/ 10°C, I have to bring them in at night or keep them in the house for a few weeks depending on the weather. This means my dining room doubles as a greenhouse. No this is not my favorite, but it is temporary. What I don’t like about doing this, is that they can attract bugs indoors and I have had to fight fungus and fruit fly’s etc. in the past. It’s not fun, but it’s worth the headache. So, just make sure you stay on top of the weather in your region and plan accordingly.
Starting a garden doesn’t have to be a dream that only people with land or a backyard can fulfill. If you have a patio, then you have all the space you need to start a small garden and kick your cooking up a notch and your health. Do something for yourself. Your food will be better and you will give yourself a little slice of meditation and relaxation each day. Not to mention it creates a great atmosphere on your patio and adds a lot of natural beauty!