Monday, May 23, 2011

Gardening: Herbs, Sweet Basil and Oregano

 Sweet Basil                                                                                                        Oregano

Growing herbs is very easy. They can be grown both indoors and outdoors. All you need is a pot, dirt, water and light. Most herbs are very resilient and take very little to successfully grow. Basil and oregano are two of my favorites. Two basil or oregano plants can give you a very large amount at the end of their growing season, not to mention you can harvest from them as they grow.

Both basil and oregano will produce a much larger crop if planted outdoors and in the ground. if you don't have the room or live in an apartment, don't worry, you can still grow nice plants that will produce a nice crop.

Sweet basil is the most popular of the basil family. It is very easy to grow. it does require a very sunny spot and plenty of water. make sure the soil is rich and well drained. When planting outdoors do not plant in a low lying area where water tends to stand. When plating indoors, make sure you have a large pot with plenty of rocks at the bottom of the pot and make sure the pot has sufficient drain holes. If you are starting basil from seed, which is very easy, germination should be in 5 to 7 days. Do not plant seeds to a depth more than twice the size of the seed. When planting many seeds to be transplanted out doors, plant the seeds about 1/2 inch apart make sure you have sterile soil. Keep the soil moist, but NOT soggy. Cover your post or flats with plastic will help hold in heat and moisture.Moisture is very important to a good basil crop, mulching around the base of the plant will help keep moisture in and help keep weeds down, if planting outdoors. Should you decide to fertilize, do so, very sparingly. as it will decrease the oils of the basil plant.I do not fertilize any of my herbs. Basil can become very leggy, so it is important to prune the plant. I would suggest pinching back about every three weeks, this will produce a very nice bushy basil plant. Pruning will also keep your basil from flowering and going to seed as fast, not to mention, you will get more usable basil from the plant. Basil can be harvested as soon as you have mature leaves. I usually begin harvesting it basil when it reaches about 8 inches.

Oregano can be started about the same way as basil. It will require a little more attention that basil does. I usually by oregano starters from a local nursery. One or two plants is more than enough to give you a harvest which will last you a bout a year or more. Unless you cook with it daily, you will probably have more than enough with one plant.  Oregano also likes moist soil, but needs less sun than basil does. Sun, if too hot, can scorch the leaves of your oregano. Bright morning sun with some afternoon shade is perfect for oregano. This herb will send out runners unlike the basil plant, it is just as important to prune oregano back to assure a nice full plant. The leaves of the oregano plant are, like basil, very aromatic. Cut your oregano plant way back if the stems become too woody. They can be cut back to just an inch or two from the ground. This will produce a nice full plant. You can begin to harvest this plant when it reaches a height of about 5 to 7 inches.

When harvesting your herbs it is best to do so in the morning. Harvest them after the sun has dried up the morning dew. The plant will have the strongest flavor at this time. if you wait until the leaves get too warm later in the day, you will lose a lot of flavor.  Both basil and oregano can be dried the same way. Take a nice cutting, but leave a good two to three inches at the bottom of the plant so it can continue to grow and you can get multiple harvests. Use a rubber band or twine and tie the stems together. Hang upside down in a dark room, warm, well ventilated room. If it is the end of the growing season and you want to try to keep some of you flavor as close to fresh as possible, try freezing the leaves in ice. When thawed you can use them as you would fresh. harvesting for dried herbs, do not crush the leaves, this will allow most of the flavor to exit the leaves because it allow the oils to escape. Once the leaves are completely dried, place them in a brown paper bag and crush them as you need them. I have found that a coffee bean grinder is perfect for herbs. I purchased a small one for this purpose only. I would not suggest using one that you use for coffee bean as your herbs will take on the strong flavor of the coffee.

I hope this information will help you when it comes to growing herbs. Not only is this information good for the basil and oregano, but for most herbs. Thyme, dill and rosemary are also herbs which are easily grown and dried. If you are going to grow fennel, you will probably want to harvest the seeds, though the bulb is very good also. This will be in a later post. As you can see, it takes very little time or money to grow your own herbs and with the price of fresh herbs today, why not give it a try. If you wish to have fresh herbs available all year, You can grow them year round in your home, just have a sunny window, away from drafts and give them plenty of water. Your plants will probably not reach the size they would outdoors, but they will be just as flavorful.

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