The Homestead Herb Garden

Our previous two homesteads wouldn’t have been complete without the homestead herb garden and neither would our new homestead here in Nova Scotia. Because herbs don’t require much space, they make good candidates for containers and can even be grown indoors on sunny windowsills by folks living in apartments. Herbs can be grown in the vegetable garden or they can have their own dedicated space, the herb garden, which is what we’ve always done.

Herbs Ready for Drying

Herbs Ready for Drying

Growing Herbs

Many herbs originated in Mediterranean areas where the soils are often not the greatest in terms of fertility. Therefore herbs can thrive in soils where other plants may struggle. But the one thing most herbs do require is well drained soil. If you have heavy, wet soil, consider adding sand to lighten the soil, adding organic matter in the form of compost or peat moss and/or establishing a raised bed for your herb garden.

The Start of Nova Scotia Herb Bed

The Start of Nova Scotia Herb Bed

Here in Nova Scotia we used rocks for the border edges then filled the herb bed with a mixture of soil and as much native organic matter as we could get our hands on to lighten up our heavy clay soil. We incorporated moss from the woods, the crumbling remains of dead and decaying trees as well as wood chip mulch we generated from our chipper and the many brush piles we had from creating our clearing in the woods.See mulches and mulching for more. 

Mulched Bed Ready for Winter

Mulched Bed Ready for Winter

The seeds for many herbs are very tiny and are often slow to germinate. Because of this it’s important to minimize competition with weeds. Mulching helps to control weeds as does weekly cultivation of the soil prior to planting to prevent sprouting weeds from getting established. Mulching also keeps the herb plants clean and free of spattered mud in case of heavy rains.

Classification of Herbs

Herbs can be classed as either annuals, which must be planted each year, perennials, which once established will faithfully come up each year or biennials. Annual herbs that we grow include basil, chamomile, summer savory, marjoram, dill, white and brown mustard and stevia. Perennial herbs we’ve grown include anise-hyssop, lemon balm, sage, thyme, rosemary, chives, garlic chives, comfrey, horehound, mint, lemongrass and oregano. We’ve also grown a few biennial herbs, namely caraway, parsley, fennel and mullein. Biennial herbs produce their seeds in their second year of growth.

Nova Scotia Herb Garden

Nova Scotia Herb Garden

I should mention that in the list of perennial herbs that we grow, there are a few that are tender and have to be covered with mulch prior to the onset of winter otherwise they winterkill and have to be replanted the following spring, effectively making them annuals. Even with a protective winter mulch, some very tender perennial herbs may die. Lemongrass is such an example. Despite being heavily mulched, it did not make it through the winter in zone 5 of eastern Nova Scotia.

I give winter protection to the following: thyme, rosemary and lemon balm. One year I forgot to protect the thyme and it died. I never made that mistake again. Many gardeners bring their rosemary plant indoors for the winter and set it back outside the following season.

Getting Started with Herbs

If you’ve never grown herbs before and are trying to decide which to grow, I suggest you think about what herbs you use in the kitchen the most. For us that means thyme, basil and oregano followed by savory, sage and marjoram. When I first started growing herbs these were the ones I started with. Once I felt confident growing these I added more to my repertoire, in particular herbs that make good teas such as lemon balm and anise-hyssop. The last herbs I added to the garden were medicinal ones such as horehound for cough drops and cough syrup.

Herbs can be grown from seeds, cuttings or divisions. With the exception of mint which came from cuttings, all our herbs are grown from seeds. In many instances the seed is so fine I don’t try to cover them with soil. I just sprinkle them on the soil and pat them in with the palm of my hand. Herb seed can be directly sown outside, but for an earlier start, herbs can be started indoors if desired. Chives can be easily grown from seeds but if you know someone who grows them they will likely be glad to divide their clump and give you some.

Below is a list of some common herbs with cultural information on each.

Herb

Type and Height

Comments

Basil

Annual 24”

Frost sensitive. Plant after frost danger is past

Chives

Perennial 18”

Can sow seeds before last frost

Dill

Annual 36”

Plant seeds as early as ground can be worked

Marjoram

Annual 12”

Like basil is frost sensitive

Oregano

Perennial 20”

Rosemary

Tender perennial 36”

Frost sensitive. Mulch for winter

Sage

Perennial 24”

Set out transplants 1-2 weeks before last frost

Savory

Annual 12”

Sow seeds at time of last frost

Thyme

Perennial 12”

Set out transplants 1 to 2 weeks before last frost

Placement of Plants

When deciding what herbs to plant where you may want to keep a few things in mind. First is the height of the herbs you wish to grow. Any with low to the ground growth habits such as thyme are best planted in the front while tall herbs such as dill are good for the back.

Saskatchewan Herb Garden

Saskatchewan Herb Garden

Personally I like to group all my perennials together and all the annuals together. For me this arrangement makes maintenance of the herb bed easier. The one exception to this rule is mint. Any type of mint is highly invasive and will quickly take over an area in a few short years. I learned that the hard way back in Maine where the mint quickly over ran the entire herb garden. So it needs to be grown where it won’t interfere with anything else once it has spread or better yet grow it in a big pot to contain its roots. Our current mint area has a buried plastic edge strip circling the bed. That should help keep it confined to where we want it.

Growing your own herbs, whether in a pot on a sunny window sill or outdoors in the garden is another facet of freedom from the supermarket.

Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!

Ron and Johanna

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2 Responses to The Homestead Herb Garden

  1. Liz Stone says:

    We live here in rural Maine and really enjoy your blog…..
    Am and AVID knitter and also spin……..
    We do a lot of the things you do…….getting older does present some challenges though….

    • Ron & Johanna Melchiore says:

      Hello Liz. Thanks for the nice comments. You probably know we got our start in Maine up in the “County” so quite familiar with the State. Getting older hasn’t slowed us down any yet but we certainly do our work with more stiffness, aches and pains. We firmly believe once we give in and start slowing down, the natural decline will start to accelerate and will be hard, if not impossible to reverse at that point. So we’ll keep grinding away as best we can. Stay well over there!

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