Storage Tips: Growing Herbs

By giving us small potted plants as opposed to pre-cut herbs, Farmer Ted, in his infinite wisdom, is giving us a gift that keeps on giving. All you have to do is keep it alive. 


YOU: “But potted herbs? I can’t grow things! What am I supposed to do with these?”

ME: “There’s a lot to worry about right now, and growing herbs shouldn’t be one of them. Relax: You Can Do This. Here are some low-effort, decidedly unfancy potting tips for the verdantly challenged.

Step 1: Pick a vessel.

Don’t think you have any pots? Sure you do. Look in that recycling bin over there. See that 2 liter empty plastic water bottle? That empty coffee tin? That Sapporo tall boy can? That old 20oz tin can of beans? Rinse that puppy out, cut the top off (if needed), poke or drill a couple holes in the bottom of that sucker so that water will drain out, turn it right side up and stick it on a little saucer…know what I call that? A freaking flower pot.

Step 2: Get some dirt.

Ok. Admittedly this part can be a challenge in the urban jungle, especially if you’re not trying to get a lot of dirt. But you have options: some hardware stores will sell it by the cup full or in small bags. Or go in on a bigger bag with a fellow CSAer. Or make your own by starting a worm bin! (I’ll talk about this next week.)
Alternately, the Lower East Side Ecology Center sells compost in Union Square which your herbs could live in all on it’s own, or you can make that compost go farther and retain moisture better by adding in coconut coir and some vermiculite at a 30/30/30 ratio.
Regardless of origin, the thing to be aware of here is that your plant needs good drainage and air around it’s roots, so if your wet dirt clumps easily into tight, dense fistfuls when you smoosh it, then it probably needs a little something extra to fluff it up and make it drain better. If you can’t be bothered with getting vermiculite then styrofoam or compostable packing peanuts will do the trick too. Organic they are not, effective they are.
Step 3:  Put your plant in the pot with some dirt.
Yup. some rocks or broken pottery/glass placed at the bottom of the pot can help keep things draining well. Then throw some dirt in, stick your plant in, pour some more dirt in, water it, stick it in a window with a good amount of light but not too much.
You generally want at least 4 hours of direct light, but harsh, hot afternoon sun can often be too much for potted plants. So try to find a good balance.
Don’t know when to water it? Stick your finger in the dirt about a half an inch deep…
Does it feel dry? Water it.
Does it still feel wet? Don’t water it.
If the leaves start to get all yellowy chances are you’re overwatering (Rookie Mistake #1)
If it’s all shrivelly and wilty like Mr Burns in the nude then chances are it’s really thirsty. Water it quick before it dies!
Step 4: Reap the copious bounty that is your now thriving potted herb plant.

Wow, how cool! You grew some basil/cilantro/mint/whatever and it’s now, like, a foot tall or something! So cut some off and use it!The idea here is that you want to promote new growth and you want your herbs to bush rather than spire. When they get all long and gangly they aren’t so hot on leaf production. So the best method is to pinch or snip small amounts from all over the plant, rather than cutting large sections off one stem a time. This kind of “hair cut” method will prompt it to double it’s leaves on each stem, thereby getting all bushy ‘n’ stuff. Trim or pinch right above where there are new leaves, so that they can be the new “top” of that stem.  LIKE THIS

Proviso:
Yeah, sometimes it really can be this easy. Most people are too attentive to their plants and over water them, causing them to die. The key to being a good plant parent is finding the sweet spot between necessary attention and benign neglect. When in doubt do less.
Give a man a bunch of basil and he’ll make pesto once. Give him a basil plant and he’ll have pesto for life.

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