Growing Herbs in Small Places (Pots and Various Containers)

By William “Bill” Varney

A great advantage of herbs is that regardless of your limited space, almost all herbs can be successfully grown in containers and small spaces. In fact, potted herbs will make a garden where nothing else will.

Virgil the Roman poet said it best: “Admire a large estate, but work a small oncontainer, herbse.”

Tips:

  •  No place is too small for a garden of potted herbs, and there is always a place in any type of garden for decorative containers of herbs.
  • Any container from one gallon to forty is usable. However, it is advisable to plant only hardy perennials in your largest containers. If five-gallon containers are used for tender perennials or annuals, keep them near your front or back door, then when a freeze is predicted, moving them indoors is easier.
  • Be creative in choosing your containers: Horse troughs, iron kettles, old watering cans, cinder blocks, pallets, unusual old tins, the list is endless. Of course, the traditional clay pots, redwood, and cedar containers are the old mainstay. Other alternatives are hanging baskets and containers.
  • Requirements for any container include good drainage and a depth of at least six inches is essential, regardless if the container is plastic, clay, or unusual material. There must be room for a root system to draw sufficient moisture and food to keep the plant growing and healthy.
  • Grow plants together in a large container. A whiskey or wine barrel, for example. Strawberry pots are perfect for many smaller growing herbs, such as thyme, parley, marjoram, and chives.
  • A slightly richer soil is suggested for potted herbs, especially mint, parsley, chives, and chervil, than those in the garden.
  • Additionally, potted herbs should have four to five hours of sun. If placed in full sun, recognize that they will dry out very quickly during the summer.

If you live in a warmer part of the country, fall is a great timcontainerse to bring your herbs a little closer to your kitchen by planting them in pots. If you live in a colder climate, start making notes about planting some of your herbs in pots next spring.

 

Plan Your Final Roundup

Plan Your Final Roundup

By Kathleen M Hale, Western Reserve Herb Society

SkullandcrossbonesYipee-Ki-Yay, Mother Earthers! I am here to hold your hand and talk to you about your deepest, darkest secret. You know that big plastic jug of death that you have hidden in the back of your garage or garden shed? Yeah. That one. Roundup.

I know that you would never dream of using it again. You bought it a long time ago. Maybe you didn’t buy it at all. Maybe it came with the house when you bought it. No judgment here. But it’s time to move on.

The active ingredient of Roundup products is glysophate. It enters the targeted plant through the leaves when the plant is sprayed. From there it moves through the plant, stopping the metabolism of a crucial enzyme. It kills the target plant, then breaks down into harmless components, without harm to neighboring plants, humans or pets. That’s the theory.

And, to be fair, as recently as April 30, 2019, the EPA continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label recommendations and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.

However, that announcement comes after two high-profile court cases in which cancer patients claimed Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Tens of millions of dollars were awarded in damages. And there are, not surprisingly, thousands more cases presently being brought against Roundup’s manufacturer, Monsanto. Those cases started to be brought after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

glyphosateWe’re not going to discuss the impact of glysophate on industrial farming, and so-called “Roundup-ready products.” Not here, anyway. Few of us are dealing with acres and acres of newly monocultured farm land. Most of us just like to putter around our gardens. And, if you would like to do so without stressing about what glysophate is doing to you or anything else, I propose a two-point recovery plan. Dispose of the Roundup you have gathering dust on a top shelf, before your gardening friends find it and shame you. Instead, explore other means of weed management.

But how to get rid of the body, as it were? You really shouldn’t shove it to the bottom of the trash bin, and have it taken away to the landfill. You really, really shouldn’t pour Roundup down the drain. Even Roundup’s creator, Monsanto, warns that — although they suggest that the concerned gardener might dispose of an empty container in the trash stream (or even attempt to recycle it) — any remaining product is trickier. They warn: “Call your local solid waste agency for disposal instructions. Never place unused product down any indoor or outdoor drain.”

Some municipalities provide a hazardous household chemical disposal service. To find out where to take your unwanted herbicides and pesticides, you can contact your local hazardous waste disposal agency, call 1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687), or talk to your state’s environmental agencies.

So, what are you going to use instead when the wrong sorts of things start growing through the gravel path? The “Universal Homemade Weed Destroyer” is one gallon of white vinegar, one cup of Epsom salts and a squirt or two of Dawn dishwashing detergent. I’ve heard it has to be the original blue Dawn. My research has not extended to testing other detergents. But you might as well keep Dawn on hand, in case your dog gets skunked. Because, you know, the “Universal De-Skunking Potion” is a combination of bicarbonate of soda, hydrogen peroxide and…yes…Dawn. It also makes a lovely science experiment with the kids. Take it to the beach, add some red food coloring, and assemble the ingredients on the spot to pour into a sand volcano. It makes awesome lava.

You’re welcome.

Guide to Root Division for Herbs

Guide to Root Division for Herbs

By Juliet Blankespoor, Herbalist, Teacher, Gardener, Writer and Botanical Photographer

Following is adapted, with permission, from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine’s 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program. The program is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course available. Learn more at Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine..

root division two plantsAs a gardener, you’ve undoubtedly bought many plants to populate your garden, but you can’t beat the satisfaction of propagating your own. Dividing roots is perhaps the easiest and least expensive way to quickly fill your garden with mature plants. In a nutshell, this involves digging up a plant and separating a portion of the root system, and then replanting the separated portions, or divisions. The daughter plants, or divisions, may be planted directly in the garden or potted in preparation for moving to a new location. Depending on the plant, it’s possible to make more than 20 divisions from just one mother plant.

When you propagate a plant by root division, the new plant will be an exact clone of the parent. This is how we maintain a specific set of desired traits, such as height, flower color, flavor, aroma, or any number of distinct qualities that allow for that plant to stand out from the rest of its species.

Most herbs can be divided through root division, especially plants that run or clump. I don’t recommend dividing plants with taproots or a single stem, as they typically won’t “take.”

root division toolsEarly fall and early spring are the best times to divide roots because plants are more dormant. In the fall, just make sure to divide your roots before too many hard freezes, as the cold can stress your divisions. You’ll want to divide roots when the ground isn’t too wet, as the soil will be clumpy and adhere to the root system, making it challenging to get to the roots and see what’s going on.

To start, its best to gather a digging fork, pruners, flat-ended shovel, and a Japanese digging knife, or hori-hori. The digging fork is especially helpful, as the tines minimally disturb the soil. The blade of a Japanese digging knife has a sharp or serrated side to saw through difficult roots. Finally, some roots are just so tough that you’ll need to jump on a flat-ended shovel to sever them.

 Step-by-Step Guide to Root Division

  1. Dig the plant. Choose a vigorous, large plant that can withstand some stress. Use a digging fork or shovel to loosen soil in a circle around the plant. Gently pry plant from soil, excavating side roots if needed.

 

  1. Remove excess soil. Shake away just enough soil to see what you’re working with. You may need to thump the root system in its hole to dislodge soil clumps. Be careful, as removing all the soil will damage the tender microscopic root hairs.

 

  1. Size up the root system. Determine how many buds or shoots the root system has and decide how many cuts to make, yielding a few large divisions or many small divisions. Each plant is truly unique in how small of a division will actually survive. Be certain to have at least one shoot or bud per division and a large enough root system to support it.

Root division hori hori

  1. Make divisions. Using one of the tools mentioned above, divide your roots. For roots that are growing loosely, pry apart divisions with your hands. Denser root systems may require sawing into segments with a hori-hori. And tough root systems require a shovel.

 

  1. Trim the tops. This is the most important step in successful root division. When you disturb the root system, the plant can no longer support the original aboveground vegetation. If the plant is dormant, you can skip this step. If your plant is an herbaceous perennial that is already dying back for the winter, you can completely cut back the aboveground growth. If the plant is actively growing with many stems, cut the stems back by half. If it just has emerging leaves, remove half the leaves. If you’re replanting the mother plant, make sure to cut back its growth as well.

Root division cutting back

  1. Transplant into the garden or pots. Transplant “divisionlings” into their forever home in the garden or pot them. Make sure to plant at the same soil depth they were originally growing. Potted divisions can be grown until their root system is established and has filled up the pot, and then they can be transplanted or shared with a friend.

 

  1. Water. Water your divisions with fresh water or prepare a solution from willow or seaweed that encourages rooting.

 

  1. Enjoy.

HSA (2)The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine is located in the botanically rich Appalachian Mountains, outside of Asheville, NC. Their passion for healing plants, herbal education, and medicinal gardening is at the heart of all their teachings. Their online courses: the Herbal Medicine Making Course, the Herbal Immersion Program, and the Foraging Course (launching in early 2018).

 Juliet Blankespoor is the botanical mastermind behind the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, which she founded in 2007 after deciding to become a professional plant-human matchmaker. She has more than 25 years of herbal experience.

Prepare Garden Soil for Growing

Prepare Garden Soil for Growing

By Kelly Orzel, author, master gardener and owner Bowery Beach Farms

soilTest.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyWhen most gardeners think about their garden, they picture big beautiful blooms or perfectly ripe tomatoes…I think about what’s underneath: Dirt. (Sidenote: I would bottle that scent and wear it if I could!)

But first things first, test your soil. The importance of soil testing cannot be overstated. Most vegetables prefer a pH of 6.5, but without a starting point you won’t know whether you need lime to raise it, or sulfur to reduce it. Your results also tell you which amendments to add if you want to grow brassicas, nightshades or something else. Soil test kits are available at your local extension office and for a nominal fee you’ll get all sorts of helpful information (it’s worth the investment).

Don’t scrimp on soil. I saw it time and again when I worked in the nursery, weekend warriors trying to save a few bucks on inferior soil, while spending huge amounts of money on dahlia tubers, new seeds or bright, colorful annuals and perennials. This ADES (All Dirt Is Equal Syndrome), affects many new (and experienced) gardeners, and can be disastrous in the garden!

soil.compostAmended.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyLet’s dispel soil myth #1 first:  Topsoil is not the answer. “Topsoil” means the dirt was scraped from the top, including troublesome weed seed. It doesn’t indicate if it has organic matter (which you want) or what percent of sand, silt and clay is in the bag. What you really want instead is loam. Loam has just the right balance of soil particles, giving you excellent drainage and improved nutrient and water-holding capacity (yes!). Look at soil bag descriptions and look for something that drains well.

Every year I start with a soil test to determine what my plants are going to need and add accordingly (blood meal for foliage, bonemeal for flowering plants and lime/sulfur to adjust the pH). Just follow the directions on the bag and apply.

A note on digging. Unless you are starting a brand-spanking new bed, DON’T DO IT ! This is soil myth #2: Rototilling mixes your soil. No. It doesn’t. Actually, it breaks apart your soil’s structure and kills the beneficial microbes and worms living in your garden.

soil.Feat.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographyInstead, top dress your beds with a few inches of compost and let the earthworms do the work. It’s what they want to do anyway and they’re good at it. They’ll sense that delicious, nutrient-rich compost ladled on top of your garden bed and crawl up, around and down as fast as they can to digest nutrients, leaving castings and distributing nutrients throughout the soil. Why would you want to mess with the natural order of the universe?

For new raised beds, fill them with a 50/50 mixture of garden loam and compost, topping it with a few inches of straight compost. Otherwise, all the same principles for amending and no tilling apply.

Soil myth #3: You need to aerate your soil. Wrong-o. While you want some space in your soil for air, water and roots to tunnel through and reach nutrients, let the soil microbes handle that. This is why good soil structure is so important (remember that mix of sand, silt and clay we talked about?). You don’t want too much sand because that will cause all your water and nutrients to drain away before plants can get a hold of them, and you don’t want too much clay either, which causes root rot. With the right blend of soil particles, earthworms and microbes not only till, but they aerate as well, leaving behind hundreds and thousands of channels as they slide, inch and wiggle their way through your garden.

Osoil.Bed.-¬KellyOrzelPhotographynce your bed has been made (ha!) and planted in, try to avoid stepping on and compacting the soil. Each time you compress the soil, you’re squeezing out all those air channels and suffocating the roots.

As you plant into your beds and notice an increase in earthworms, that means you are doing something right! Earthworms are a sign of healthy, biological activity in your soil. If you don’t see as many worms as you like, you can add casting to help improve the fertility, buy actual earthworms and toss them into the garden or raise your own in a homemade earthworm bin (there’s lots of free plans available online).
Personally, I use drip tape and landscape fabric (rated for 12-15 years) with holes burned into them, and plant directly into these little pockets to help control the weed situation.

BackyardGardenerBook.KellyOrzel.-¬KellyOrzelPhotography 2While most of us hate weeds because they make the garden look sloppy, but they’re extremely dangerous because they steal all that organic matter and water from your plants, and overcrowd your garden. To make it look more aesthetically pleasing you can cover the fabric with wood chips, straw or gravel.



For more information on soil, its amendments and nutrients, compost, as well as everything you can (and can’t) imagine about organic growing and the kitchen garden, pick up a copy of Kelly’s book, The Backyard Gardener, available on Amazon
Barnes+Noble’s or get your signed copy on her site, Bowery Beach Farm.


Kelly.Orzel.BoweryBeachFarmKelly Orzel is an author, girl-farmer, garden speaker, Master Gardener and life-long grower of green things. With more than 20 years of experience and a master’s degree in Horticulture, Kelly’s obsession for plants and flowers has culminated with Bowery Beach Farm in Maine. As a sustainable, organic farmer she specializes in culinary herbs and scented geraniums.  

Aside from dirt, Kelly loves bread and cheese, over-sized sweaters and Jane Austen novels. For more information on Kelly and her garden lectures, contact her here! You can visit her and her farm at BoweryBeachFarm.com.