It’s easy to get root cuttings or small potted up plants for herb starts. Once planted, herbs tend to thrive if they have enough sun.
For a new garden challenge, try growing herbs from seed instead. With a few successes you may feel that your herb garden is really yours, and you gain confidence to keep growing and using new plants, or standard plants in new settings. And the cost is so much lower.
Here are some useful herbs that you can use as seed rather than root starts. In some cases these are true perennials, and in others the mature plants will self seed and the result is the same:
Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia, or winter purslane), a spring tonic
Chamomile (German is annual and self-seeding, Roman is perennial)
Cardoon (not an herb, but a multi-year wonder that looks like artichoke)
Read the seed packets carefully. Some seeds stay viable for many years, which means you don’t have to use all the seeds in one year (chamomile seeds are tiny!). Also, check days to sprouting, which tells you how long to wait before getting worried.
In addition, some seeds are direct sown into the soil – the packet tells you when – while others need to be planted first in flats and babied until they are big enough to transplant into permanent beds (mist, mist, mist to keep seedlings moist). Don’t be surprised if all the seeds don’t make it; even a small percentage, though, can create a lot of vegetation.
As you plant your new herb starts, be sure to label what goes where. Many little spouts look the same…like weeds. You should use plant labels that last through several seasons.
My practice is always to plant out new specimens in several different locations in the garden. Where they do best I plant more of the same; where they fail to thrive I don’t bother repeating there.
Finally, patience. While potted herb starts take off fast, it may take a year or more for herbs-from-seeds to develop to maturity.
I like having a vegetable garden because of all the delicious food I can grow, but sometimes I feel as though I’m feeding the local wildlife more than my family. I don’t like the idea of spraying chemicals, even organic ones, so what are my options?
As someone who shares your no-spray philosophy, I really feel your frustration! Last year I spent at least 15 minutes every morning squishing yellow Mexican Bean Beetles, feeling worried about karmic ramifications, and still losing all the leaves on my bean plants. However, bees still frequented the small pink and yellow flowers, pods still grew and I still had a respectable bean harvest. Also, because this particular bean seemed to be their favorite, my other bean varieties were less affected and produced a good crop.
So, we’ve already covered a few options here. Hand-picking is a go to tool for the home gardener. If finger-squishing makes you squeamish then carrying a bucket of soapy water and knocking the pests into the bucket is a less gruesome control method. Planting a sacrificial crop is another worthy tactic. My Cherokee Trail of Tears were hit bad, but their sacrifice allowed my Mountain Rose and Kentucky Wonder beans to thrive. I’ve found these ‘trap’ crops also work well for Brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collards etc.). In my garden Dinosaur Kale seems popular amongst the cabbage moths, so a row of that keeps the caterpillars happy and my cabbage and broccoli survives relatively pest free.
My favorite tool for no-spray gardening is nature. It’s a battleground out there, but the ecosystem approach to control is beautiful to see. Last year I noticed a few tomato hornworms chewing up my tomatoes. I decided to leave them be and sure enough, within a week or so, parasitic wasps had mummified the poor hornworm. You can help sway the tide of the battle by supporting the good guys. I have ducks to eat my slugs, bluebird boxes for caterpillar control, ladybug eggs to fight the aphids and host plants for the beneficial bugs.