Ten Mistakes New Herb Gardeners Make (and How to Avoid Them!)
Mistake 1: Growing from seed. When you first start out trying to grow fresh herbs, I recommend you begin by trying to grow from seedlings rather than planting your own seeds. These great little starter plants are widely available in grocery stores in the late spring. For the same price as a packet of fresh herbs from the produce section, you can buy your own little starter plant. Lots can go wrong in the seed to seedling transition (including not thinning out plants properly), so its probably best to begin by skipping that complicated task or you are in danger of washing out before you really begin.
Mistake 2: Starting with the wrong varieties. I recommend you start by trying to grow fresh basil. It is the perfect trainer herb. First, basil grows quickly, allowing you to observe the effects of your care more easily. Second, basil leaves wilt visibly when not watered enough, but recovers well if you water the wilted plant. This makes basil a great ‘canary in the mineshaft’ to help you figure out how much water is enough.
Mistake 3: Watering herbs like houseplants. Instead, water herbs a moderate amount every day. While some houseplants flourish with one solid watering per week, most delicate herbs require moderate and regular watering. This is particularly true during hot summer months. If you have good drainage at the bottom of your pot (at least a drainage hole, possibly rocks beneath the soil), it will be difficult to water herbs too much.
Mistake 4: Not cutting early and often. As a novice gardener, it may seem like your puny little plant just isn’t ready for a trip to the barber, but then you will find yourself sitting there wishing for leaves without much success. Again, basil is a great herb to practice pruning. As with all herbs, you want to cut the herb just above a set of growing leaves. With basil, when you cut the plant that way, the originally trimmed stem will no longer grow. However, two new stems will grow around the original cutting, creating a “V” shape (see the photo above, can you spot the Vs?). If you don’t trim basil aggressively, it will continue to grow straight up, and become too tall and top-heavy. Making your first trim approximately 3-4” above the soil produces a nice sturdy plant. Of course you want to be sure you are always leaving a few good sturdy leaves on the plant (see below). As it continues to grow, continue to prune it approximately every 3-4" for a nice solid plant. I like to let it grow for some time and then cut back to within 2-3 inches of the original cut. After only a few early trial cuts, this usually makes for a nice clipping with plenty of basil to use for a pizza.
Mistake 5: Taking the leaves from the wrong place. When you are just starting out it seems to make so much sense to pick off a few big leaves around the bottom of the plant, and let those tender little guys at the top keep growing. Wrong. Leave those large tough old guys at the bottom alone. They are the solar panels that power your herb’s growth. Once your plant is big enough to sustain a decent harvest, keep on taking from the top, as you have been when you were pruning. That way you get all those tender new herbs that are so tasty, and your plant gets to keep its well developed solar power system in place. Plus, if you pluck from the base and leave the top intact, you get a tall skinny plant that will flop over from its own weight (and yes, I know this from experience). When you pluck from the top, instead of clipping off just below a pair of leaves, you want to clip off just above a pair of leaves. It is a bit counter-intuitive as a novice, but trust me it works. The place where the leaf joins the stem is where new growth will occur when your plant sends off new stems in a V.
Mistake 6: Letting your plants get too randy. If you are pruning regularly, this may never become an issue, but unless you are growing something for its edible flowers, be sure to cut back herbs before they start growing flowers. My friend once brought me to her backyard garden and pointed, frustrated, at her wimpy, small basil plants. “I just keep tending them, but they don’t even produce enough leaves to put on a salad!” she lamented. I pointed to the glorious stalk of flowers at the top of each plant, “That’s your problem” I explained. Because herbs are kind of like college boys: if you give them half a chance, they will focus all their energy on procreation and neglect growth. If you want leaves, keep cutting off the little flower buds whenever you find them (see photo above), and it will encourage your plant to focus on growing more leaves.
Mistake 7: Using tired soil with no nutrients. Tired soil that has been sitting in your garden or lawn for ages often looks grey and a little depressing. Would you want to grow in that stuff? Give your plants a dose of the good stuff and they’ll thank you for it. I grow my herbs in a combination of potting soil, used coffee grounds (with a near-neutral PH, available for free at Starbucks), and organic compost. If I have some on hand, I also throw in crushed egg shells. Those without access to compost (and no deep commitment to organic growing) may find Miracle grow useful. My momma swears by it for tomatoes. A diluted solution of Miracle grow occasionally can help many herbs flourish.
Mistake 8: Getting in a rut. There is an element to passion about herb gardening. In order to be good at it, you need to feel rewarded. So don’t stick too long with one or two herbs just because they work. Branch out to a few other basic herbs that you will use regularly in your kitchen. There are few things more rewarding as an urban foodie than being able to pop out to the fire escape to clip fresh herbs to use in my cooking. Once you have become comfortable with basil, I recommend moving on to try growing oregano, mint, rosemary and thyme. All are regularly useful herbs in the kitchen, and all are relatively easy to grow. You will notice that rosemary cleaves after cutting in a somewhat similar way to basil, but grows much more slowly, so the effect is difficult to notice. Some plants also respond to clipping by throwing out more full leaves at their base. I have long wanted to grow cilantro but have not had much luck with it.
Mistake 9: You mean there’s more than one kind of mint?When choosing herbs, read the label carefully. For example, there are two main varieties of oregano: Mediterranean and Mexican. Mediterranean oregano is the more common variety, and what you likely own if you have conventional dried oregano in your cupboard. I have Mexican oregano growing on my back fire escape. I love Mexican oregano in spicy dishes, for making beans from scratch, and often use it in tomato dishes where I don’t want the flavor to seem too much like marinara. Similarly, there are many different kinds of mint. You don’t want to be thinking of the pungent spearmint plant and accidentally take home the much more subtle (and not mojito savvy) applemint by mistake.
Mistake 10: Feed me Seymour! If you are planting in soil instead of pots, take care that your cute little herb seedling doesn’t become a giant plant that takes over your garden. A word of warning for oregano and mint: both can be voracious growers. If you are planting outside in a garden, rather than in pots, you may want to consider potting these herbs and then burying the pots in the ground. This will add a measure of control to the root systems of these herbs, which can otherwise take over a garden and strangle nearby neighbors. When in doubt, check out wikipedia, they usually are careful to point out which herbs are in danger of overwhelming your garden.
Some really useful info here if you’re new to herb gardening.
I see some posts that go around that say that Mint is good for bees and I just want to say DO NOT PLANT MINT DIRECTLY IN THE GROUND. Either bury the pot or leave the pot on a porch. Mint is a weed and it will take over your garden, compete with your other plants for food and water, and grow from under concrete and rocks.
I also hear oregano and catnip is like this as well. Feel free to add any more since its garden season for many of us.
Ever seen another person’s herb garden and wanted one exactly like it? Want to buy loads of lovely herbs but don’t have the money? Or want to start a plant business don’t know where to start?
Well my friend, I have two words for you. Plant cloning. It’s natural, free and very easy to do.
This method works best for herbs such as
Broadleaf Thyme/Cuban Oregano
Basically, what it does is allow you to take a cutting from one plant, and grow an entirely separate plant from it. This means that you could have an endless supply of herbs - you can take 20 cuttings from a single plant, and when they’ve all grown you’ll be able to take another 20 cutting from each of those plants!
So how do you do it? Well it’s deceptively simple. Here’s how:
1. Start with your parent plant. Due to my recent obsession with basil, that’s the herb I’ve decided to go for.
2. Take a cutting - about 4-5 inches long. Make sure you do it just below a node (the place where the leaves join the stem, just like above in the picture)
3. If possible, try and cut the stem diagonally. This gives it a greater surface area to suck up water with.
4. OK, so this is pretty much what your cutting should look like. Make sure you’ve removed at least the bottom pair of leaves, but it’s good to remove a few sets as the plant can then concentrate on growing roots.
5. Place the cutting in some water so that the stem is comletley submerged. I found old plastic shot glasses worked great for this, but you can also use pretty bottles or cups or whatever.
6. Make sure you’ve picked the bottom leaves off, and that the nodes are in the water. This is because the new roots are going to grow out of these nodes, so obviously they’re going to need to be in the water.
7. Put them in a sunny place where you can keep an eye on them. Above is a picture of the babies with their mummy! After about a week, roots should have grown out of the nodes.
8. That’s it, you’re done! Once the roots are well developed, you can plant your herbs in to pots. Keep the soil moist and the herb in a sunny place, and soon it’ll be as big as the parent plant.
You can use this method to get free herbs - instead of buying them all, why not just take cuttings from a friend or family member’s herbs and use them for your own garden? (with their permission of course)
Or, take a lot of cuttings like I’ve done, pot them up and sell them for a profit!
The Domestic Garden Witch: Souper Recycling Ideas!
So maybe you’re a college witch with limited space and money, limited to the one window in your dorm. Or, maybe you’re a witch without extensive backyard space who wants to start up a magical garden. Perhaps you’re a kitchen witch who wants the freshest herbs right at her fingertips.
For many witches, having a garden seems to be a bit of a no-brainer. After all, plants and magic go hand-in-hand. Plus, when thinking of a witch, it’s hard not to think of a cottage in the woods with a little vegetable garden out front. Unfortunately for the majority of us, our cottage in the woods is a tiny flat, and our garden out front is a windowsill with limited space.
This is when it comes time to embrace your craftiness and bring your garden indoors! Not only does it place your garden in a convenient location, it also allows you to freshen the air, recycle what would otherwise harm the earth, and embrace your witchy green thumb!
Soup and Coffee Tins? Perfect!
So spring break is over and students all over the country are hunkering down for another quarter (or semester) of frantic studying, testing, and praying for sleep while pulling all-nighters. However, what’s likely also on the minds of these students is the need to have access to fresh ingredients on a budget. Well, college witches, search no more!
Chances are that in packing up some food for your dorm, you’ve also managed to amass a sizeable collection of soup cans and coffee tins. Whether your diet is exclusively cold Spaghetti-O’s and coffee or if you’ve just never gotten rid of the can from your sick day chicken noodle soup, these tin cans are useful as seed starters, herb planters, and rustic decoration.
Like any container garden, the process is simple. Carefully puncture a few drainage holes at the bottom of the can, provide a layer of gravel, add soil and seedlings/seeds, and water. But the fun is in what you can do to make these little DIY planters have a bit of personality! For that, we jump straight to some witchy talk!
How Can I Witch This?
I know, this container seems fairly self-explanatory. Sigils, symbols, runes and whatnot painted or drawn on the can to promote health and whatever else the plant corresponds to, and crystals added to the soil for the same reason. But I wanted to take a step back and consider the container itself for a moment.
In previous Domestic Garden Witch articles, I’ve focused on what you can do with the containers rather than what the containers might link to in witchcraft. In this case, I would like to change that. Tin cans, while inexpensive, are produced today not from tin (usually), but from aluminum or steel. Depending upon what the can stores, it could also be tin-plate steel. Regardless, these metals have some influence in what you can do on a magical level.
First, tin is a wonderful metal with a bit of history in witchcraft. In many traditions, it is most strongly associated with healing, prosperity, and money spells. Consider growing plants such as basil or rosemary in containers made with tin, allowing the metal to correspond with the uses of these herbs in your spells.
Aluminum is inexpensive, fairly plentiful these days, and actually does have a use in modern witchcraft despite its lack of historical magical attributes. Today, it can most often be associated with thriftiness, reflection, malleability, and travel. If you’re looking to work spells which encourage financial responsibility, or introspective thought, consider using aluminum cans with the appropriate plants and crystals.
Man has used steel quite a bit throughout history, and while we tend to have a stronger bond with iron (iron having been one of the first metals we’ve worked with, after copper and bronze), steel does have a few magical properties that have survived. Like iron, steel is most strongly associated with protection (so much so that in a few practices where metals are significant considerations, it’s acceptable to use an athame of steel in place of iron). If your tin can is actually made of steel, as many coffee cans are, consider growing plants such as rosemary or tomatoes (as starters) whose properties resonate quite strongly with iron and steel.
Not sure what your container is made of? Check to see if it’s magnetic. If it sticks, chances are that it is made of steel or has a high content of iron. If not, then it is most likely aluminum. Ultimately, however, you’re going to want to work with your gut feelings. If you don’t feel that your container brings anything to the magic, then don’t incorporate it into the spell, opting instead to just make use of the thriftiness of the idea. If you have a steel can but feel that it works best for love spells, then by all means grow that lavender in it!
May all your harvests be bountiful! Blessed Be! )O(
1. Colour matters: Although bees have excellent colour vision it is shifted towards the ultraviolet spectrum. This means they find it hard to see red; to them it is in the same wavelength as green, making it difficult for them to distinguish the flower from the rest of the plant. Therefore it is best to plant yellow, white, violet, purple and blue flowers which can be found in plants such as; lavender, sunflowers, sage, rosemary and honeysuckle.
2. Bees get thirsty too: Putting a shallow water basin filled with pebbles, marbles or sea glass in your garden provides the bees with a water source, helping them remain longer in your garden.
3. Don’t use chemicals: When treating your garden with chemicals you are ultimately causing damage to the local honeybee system. Try using chemical free sprays made from household products if needed. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to let your weeds and wildflowers to live a little, they can be some of the most important food sources for native bees.
4. Buy local honey: By doing this you will be supporting local beekeepers who are far more likely to care about the health and wellbeing of their bees rather than the large production companies.
5. Understand that bees aren’t out to get you: Bees are vegetarians, meaning all they want is to forage pollen and nectar from flowers which can be up to three miles from their hive. Contrary to popular belief, they are not out to sting us. Learn to stay calm if they come near you and don’t swipe as it will agitate the bee.