With a tiny bottle of spices costing anywhere from $3 to $10 a pop, there’s a huge incentive to save yourself hundreds of dollars a year and grow your own herbs! Not to mention all the herbal tea recipes, bath and beauty products and medical remedies you can create.
Growing a basic herb garden and turning your harvest into a years supply of dried herbs is not difficult. The hardest part is just setting up your garden space and choosing what herb varieties to grow.
Start from seed
Starting from seed will save you the most money since a packet of hundreds of seeds is about the same price as one transplant. But you have to start long before the spring season arrives. You will need a sunny window area or grow lights to start your seeds indoors. Check your last frost date and refer to the instructions on your seed packet. I usually sort all my seeds by planting date and just grab the pile that’s next up for planting every couple weeks (ie. a pile of 12 weeks before last frost date seeds, then 10, then 8 and so on).
Follow directions for each variety on the back of the seed packet. I love these Jiffy greenhouses to start my seeds in but you can use an egg carton or save some plastic containers from your grocery items. To find out what supplies you need to start your own seeds, check out my Gardening Supply List.
Thin your seedlings
It’s always a good idea to plant several seeds in each hole to make sure you get at least one to germinate. But if more than one pop up together, it’s best to pluck or cut the weaker seedlings and leave the strongest little sprout by itself. Competing for nutrients will actually weaken the plants over time. A stronger plant will give you a bigger harvest.
Seedlings typically need to be repotted into a larger pot a few weeks after they germinate and possibly again if they get too large before your last frost. Plants that have outgrown their container will become weak and wilted.
Harden off and plant outside
Gradually get your baby plants used to the harsh outdoor environment. Take them out for an hour or two in an area somewhat protected from harsh winds, then bring them back in. Slowly increase their time outside for a week or two. Plant them outside when you’re certain the threat of frost has past.
Tend, water and weed
My least favorite part, but fairly self explanatory. It’s easy to overwater when you’re a newbie gardener. Plants only need water when the top inch or two of soil is dry to the touch. Mulch can help suppress weeds and retain moisture.
Harvest and prune throughout the season
Different herbs have different pruning requirements, so do your research beforehand. The general rule is to keep your plant from flowering by cutting back the growing tip. This will encourage the plant to continue new growth instead of going to seed. Every time you prune, use those fresh herbs in your kitchen!
Make one final large harvest before the plant reaches the end of its life cycle or before winter hits. Make sure you leave enough on your perennial herbs like oregano and thyme so they can survive the winter. You can also dig up tender herbs and pot them inside to prolong harvesting.
Dry your herbs
Here’s my favorite part! I take the easy road and just tie my herbs in small bunches with some twine and hang them upside down. They usually take several weeks to dry. You can also put a paper bag around them to catch any falling leaves and seeds.
If your impatient, you can use a dehydrator. This also works best if your drying something thicker like onion, garlic or peppers. Lay down parchment paper and place leaves in a single layer. Make sure you remove the leaves from the stem first. Check them occasionally between 8-12 hours and take them off when they feel crunchy.
Grind and store
I like my mortise and pestle because it just feels authentic! This does take a long time when you’re grinding large quantities and I’ve even gotten blisters! A clean coffee grinder is much faster and will save your hands, but it’s easy to accidentally make a powder instead of flakes. Store in mason jars or reusable glass herb jars. I have also bought nice glass jars of spices from the grocery store with the intention of refilling them with my home grown goodies.
Once you’ve mastered single spices, it time to kick it up a notch. Make your own spice blends like taco seasoning, chili powder, burger and fries seasoning, herbs de providence, Cajun seasoning, Italian seasoning, and countless more.
Homemade herbal teas are delicious and save so much money! Look up copycat recipes for your favorite store bought blends. I love Lavender and Mint tea in the evening, it’s so soothing.