Friday, February 08, 2008

Master Gardener Column

I submitted the following for the local master gardener column. I knew it was a little long but thought it might pass. Not so. The coordinator is going to edit it to shorten it and send it back for my approval. It will be interesting to see his edited version.

Let’s plant an herb garden! Herbs are plants considered useful. In the past they were used for fragrance, medicine, seasoning and other purposes but today their main use is seasoning food. Popular culinary herbs include parsley, sage, chives, thyme, savory, marjoram, mint, basil, oregano, rosemary and tarragon.

There are several things to consider when planning an herb garden. We’ll begin with a garden site. What are our options? This area will be shaded, that one is too far from water and that one has extremely poor soil. Herbs want a warm sunny well-drained area with good soil. Our perfect site will be close to the kitchen so we can tend our garden and easily harvest herbs when making a delicious meal. How about this area? Good soil, well drained, sunny several hours each day with a little shade in the afternoon on that corner, protected from winds, not in a low area where cold air will settle. We’ve found our garden site!

What do we want to grow in our garden? We should do some research before we decide. We need to interview each potential resident of our garden. Will our herb become invasive? We don’t want it taking over the garden. Is our herb a perennial? If so, we need to be prepared to care for it year-round. How tall is the herb? We’ll need to know when planning the layout of our garden. Will it need plenty of room because it puts out runners? How much water does it require?

OK, we’ve selected a variety of herbs that will do well in our environment and it’s time to plan our layout using the gardener’s first tools -- pencil and paper. Chives, fennel, marjoram and thyme are perennials that will live for several seasons and will be grouped together on a side of the garden so we won’t disturb them next year when planting new annuals. Caraway and sage are biennials that will live for two seasons. Anise, basil, coriander and dill are annuals that will grow one season and die. Tall herbs will be placed on the north so as not to shade short plants. The thyme will prefer an area with full sun but the basil will be content with the corner that gets a little late afternoon shade. Mint can spread rapidly and needs a location were we can limit its spread.

It’s too early to prepare our garden site but when we do we’ll work the soil at least eight inches deep and amend the soil with organic matter to provide nutrients and to aid in moisture retention. This is important. We need good soil and amending it is critical to the success of our garden. Also, we’ll need a mulch to assist with water retention. While we’re waiting for the snow to melt and planting time to arrive we’ll put organic matter, mulch and fertilizer on the list of items to acquire.

For now, we want to purchase or order seeds. Basil, anise, chervil, coriander, fennel and dill do not transplant well and will need to be sown in the garden. Dill, chervil and coriander are cool season crops so we’ll plant them early when the soil warms enough. The biennials will be sown in late spring directly in the garden. An important question is what seeds should not be planted in the garden but should be started indoors and the young herbs transplanted? We’ll start perennials ten to twelve weeks before the last frost which generally occurs in . . . When is the last frost for our microclimate? We’ll have to check that date for our location. In Flagstaff, according to the National Weather Service, it’s June 13.

Sowing early indoors will give the seeds plenty of time to germinate and allow the plants to grow to a suitable size for transplanting. Our annuals tend to germinate and grow more quickly so starting them six to eight weeks before the last frost should be sufficient.
When we sow the seed we’ll prepare a fine texture in the soil surface. Let’s be cautious not to sow the seeds too deeply. Because some seeds are fine, we’ll mix them with sand to spread them more evenly. Examples are marjoram, savory and thyme. When watering, we’ll use a fine spray, which will not disturb the soil, and we’ll keep the soil moist during germination. Oops, let’s not forget to label everything we’ve sown.

Well, we’re to the point where our seeds are germinating. In a few weeks, we’ll be hardening our young plants before moving them to the garden. However, there’s more to be done now. I suggest we create a notebook with information about each plant that will aid us in caring for our garden. We can include information about water, fertilizer, plant spacing and pruning requirements. What about pests and diseases? We want to be prepared to recognize early signs of disease and know how to respond if pests are attracted to a plant. In the front of our notebook we’ll include the phone number of the Master Gardener Hotline – 774-1868, extension 19. If we encounter a problem that challenges our knowledge and experience, then we’ll phone and ask for help.

Once we have everything completed, let’s enjoy a little anticipation by finding a few new recipes that call for herbs from our garden.


Blogger Buffalo said...

Kat and her Mom will probably plant another herb garden this year.

2/08/2008 11:03:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

Long? LONG? NAW, that wasn't, like, FOREVER!!!!


Good writing, Paul.

2/09/2008 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger Malcolm said...

I think it's a shame that it will be edited. I do admire all the planning that has gone into the herb garden!

2/13/2008 12:57:00 PM  

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