How to grow herbs in small spaces

Truly, one of our great hates is forking out $4 for a sprig of basil or rosemary or thyme, wasting time and fuel getting to the supermarket, using a quarter of the bunch and then eventually ditching the rest. Our hearts sink as we imagine all those wasted multiples of $4, along with the unnecessary fuel kilometres.

If you’re living in a share-house and looking for a good house-bonding activity, try scouring the streets for ‘legal tender’ rather than venturing to the supermarket for your herbs. After each excursion, compile a map of the herb variety and the location from which it was sourced. If you’re ever caught crossing the line, where ‘legal tender’ may become ‘illegal tender’, simply state that you are providing an experimental pruning service from which you wish to derive commercial success in the future. This should confuse your neighbour enough for you to escape verbal punishment.

Whatever the scale or ambition of your veggie garden endeavours, herbs are so easy to grow and beneficial on so many levels for the rest of your crops, you should incorporate them sparingly throughout your garden. Relatively pest-free themselves, their scent and flower colour will help repel harmful pests from your annual crops while using those same weapons to attract pollinators.

Most herbs are perennial plants that are harvested by picking the sprigs or leaves, which then regenerate. While most go dormant during the colder months, there will be enough growth on your established plants to satisfy all your cooking requirements, saving you costly and unnecessary trips to the supermarket, not to mention any neighbourhood pruning services.

Tips for growing herbs:

When first planting herbs it is best to start from seedlings and water in well after transplanting. Wait a month or more before harvesting.

Feeding and mulching:

Apply liquid seaweed fertiliser every 2 or 4 weeks. After transplanting, mulch with pea straw or lucerne hay to a depth of 3-5 cm. Repeat when necessary.

Watering:

To establish stronger root growth, keep your herbs well-

watered during their infancy. Two to three times a week will suffice. Once they mature, most herbs will be hardy enough to get by on rainfall alone, but will benefit from a deep watering if conditions are dry.

Harvesting:

Your herbs will be ready for harvesting once the plant is at a mature size and at a point when picking doesn’t greatly affect its ability to photosynthesise. Wait until your herb seedlings have been in for at least a month.

Herbs are best harvested by using a sharp pair of scissors to snip off segments of leaf growth at the base of the stem. The harvesting process and seasonal cut-backs will prevent your herbs from becoming woody and result in bushier plants.

Two of our favourites are: Spicy Globe Basil and flat-leafed parsley

Space needs: Suited to smaller pots

Companion plants: Most vegetables benefit from nearby herbs.

How to grow: Sow seed directly, or purchase seedlings and transplant to your patch.

pH level: 6.5-8.0

Position: Full sun preferable, but part shade manageable

Spacing: 30-50 cm

Problems: Generally pest and disease-free

This article is an extract from the book, The Little veggie Patch co - How to grow food in small spaces by Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember, published by Pan McMillan Australia RRP: $45

Judy Davie - The Food Coach