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Basil

How to Make a Kitchen Herb Garden

Contributed by The Old Farmer’s Almanac Staff

Grow a variety of culinary herbs right outside your kitchen.

What Is a Kitchen Garden and Why Have One?

A kitchen garden is an easily accessible planting area created to support herbs used in cooking. The garden can be a small raised bed, pots on a deck, or a window box. 

Five Essential Herbs 

Here are five essential herbs that are easy to grow and can be used liberally in recipes to flavor or as garnish. 

1. Sweet Basil

Basil is straightforward to grow and a staple of any garden. When started from seed, basil germinates in 5 to 7 days; it will grow to be 2 to 3 inches tall over the first 3 weeks. Plant basil in well-draining soil with temperatures between 60º and 70ºF. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep and 8 to 10 inches apart. Basil requires a lot of sun, so plant in an open area free of shade. Water heavily and regularly. 

Harvest only the leaves of basil when the plant is young and the leaves and upper stems when the plant is mature. Pinch the stems to encourage growth, which will make the plant short and bushy. If flower buds appear, remove or the flavor of the plant will be affected. Harvested basil leaves and stems will stay fresh stored in the refrigerator for up to a week in a sealed container or plastic bag.

Use to flavor soups, stews, chicken, fish, and tomato dishes. 

2. Rosemary

Rosemary is difficult to start from seed. The best option is to get a nursery plant, which will be stronger, healthier, and closer to being ready for harvest. Transplant the rosemary into well-draining soil. The soil should be around 70ºF for best growth. Water rosemary every 1 to 2 weeks, letting the topsoil become dry between each watering. Too much water will cause root rot.

Harvest nursery plants after 3 months. Take no more than one-third of the plant at one time. Clip the stems to encourage a bushy, short plant for easier maintenance. Rosemary will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week in a sealed container or plastic bag. To dry, hang sprigs of rosemary upside-down in bundles. Dried rosemary will retain its flavor for over a year if stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry place.

Use to flavor chicken, beef, fish, beans, mushrooms, potatoes, eggs, and dumplings.

3. Chives

Chives grow rapidly all season long and are easy to manage. They tend to spread by sending up runners (side plants). From seed, chives germinate in 7 to 21 days, with ideal soil temperatures ranging from 60 to 70ºF. Propagate by dividing in spring or fall, giving about 10 inches of space between each group. Chives like plenty of sun and water for high yields.  

Harvest by cutting to 2 to 3 inches from the ground, multiple times throughout the season. Cut chives will stay fresh stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 7 days in a sealed container or plastic bag.

Use to flavor salads and vegetable stir fries and as garnish on potatoes. The flowers are also edible.

4. Mint

Mint is extremely prolific and easy to grow, naturally occurring in most areas of North America. To control growth outdoors, plant in a container with the bottom cut off. Set the plant in the ground deep enough to cover the top of the container. Mint likes sun with partial shade and regular watering. 

Unlike with most herbs, for the best taste, wait to harvest until flowers have formed. Harvest up to 1/10 of the mint plant at any one time. Mint will stay fresh when stored in the refrigerator for up to a week in a sealed container or plastic bag.

Use to add flavor to salads and smoothies, on ice cream, and in iced tea. Mint leaves are also great by themselves straight off the plant.  

5. Parsley 

Parsley is slow to germinate, so plant outdoors 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost (parsley plants can handle the cold weather). Plant each seed 1/4 inch deep and 8 to 10 inches apart; plant in rich, well-draining soil in a sunny location. Keep the soil moist by watering daily. 

Begin harvesting parsley after the leaf stems develop three segments. Harvest leaves and stems from the outside of the plant first, leaving the inner new shoots to mature. Harvested parsley will stay fresh stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks in a sealed container or plastic bag.

Use to flavor salads, vegetables, tomato sauces, and pasta dishes.