Start a Kitchen Herb Garden
LOCATION OF HERB GARDEN
In general, the most favorable exposure for an herb garden is toward the south, but lacking such an exposure should not deter one from planting herbs on a northern slope if this be the only site available. Indeed, such sites often prove remarkably good if other conditions are propitious and proper attention is given the plants. Similarly, a smooth, gently sloping surface is especially desirable, but even in gardens in which the ground is almost billowy the gardener may often take advantage of the irregularities by planting the moisture-loving plants in the hollows and those that like dry situations upon the ridges. Nothing like turning disadvantages to account!
No matter what the nature of the surface and the exposure, it is always advisable to give the herbs the most sunny spots in the garden, places where shade from trees, barns, other buildings and from fences cannot reach them. This is suggested because the development of the oils, upon which the flavoring of most of the herbs mainly depends, is best in full sunshine and the plants have more substance than when grown in the shade.
THE SOIL AND ITS PREPARATION
As to the kind of soil, Hobson’s choice ranks first! It is not necessary to move into the next county just to have an herb garden. This is one of the cases in which the gardener may well make the best of however bad a bargain he has.[Pg 46]
Combination Hand Plow, Harrow, Cultivator and Seed Drill
But supposing that a selection be possible, a light sandy loam, underlaid by a porous subsoil so as to be well drained, should be given the preference, since it is warmed quickly, easily worked, and may be stirred early in the season and after a rain. Clay loams are less desirable upon every one of the points mentioned, and very sandy soils also. But if Hobson has one of these, there will be an excellent opportunity to cultivate philosophy as well as herbs. And the gardener may be agreeably surprised at the results obtained. No harm in trying! Whatever the quality of the soil, it should not be very rich, because in such soils the growth is apt to be rank and the quantity of oil small in proportion to the leafage.
The preparation of the soil should commence as soon as the grass in the neighborhood is seen to be sprouting. Well-decayed manure should be spread at the rate of not less than a bushel nor more than double that quantity to the square yard, and as soon as the soil is dry enough to crumble readily it should be dug or plowed as deeply as possible without bringing up the subsoil. This operation of turning over the soil should be thoroughly performed, the earth being pulverized as much as possible. To accomplish this no hand tool surpasses the spading fork.
Surface Paring Cultivator One other method is, however, superior especially when practiced upon the heavier soils—fall plowing or digging. In practicing this method care should be taken to plow late when the soil, moistened by autumn rains, will naturally come up in big lumps.[Pg 47] These lumps must be left undisturbed during the winter for frost to act upon. All that will be necessary in the spring will be to rake or harrow the ground. The clods will crumble.
I once had occasion to try this method upon about 25 acres of land which had been made by pumping mud from a river bottom upon a marsh thus converted into dry ground by the sedimentation. Three sturdy horses were needed to do the plowing. The earth turned up in chunks as large as a man’s body. Contrary to my plowman’s doubts and predictions, Jack Frost did a grand milling business that winter! Clods that could hardly be broken in the autumn with a sledge hammer crumbled down in the spring at the touch of a garden rake!
Having thoroughly fined the surface of the garden by harrowing and raking, the seeds may be sown or the plants transplanted as already noted. From this time forward the surface must be kept loose and open by surface cultivation every week or 10 days and after every shower that forms a crust, until the plants cover the whole ground. This frequent cultivation is not merely for the purpose of keeping the weeds in check; it is a necessary operation to keep the immediate surface layer powdery, in which[Pg 48] condition it will act as a mulch to prevent the loss of water from the lower soil layers. When kept in perfect condition by frequent stirring the immediate surface should be powdery. Yes, powdery! Within 1 inch of the surface, however, the color will be darker from the presence of moisture. When supplied with such conditions, failures must be attributed to other causes than lack of water.
When desired, herbs may be used as secondary crops to follow such early vegetables as early cabbage and peas; or, if likely to be needed still earlier, after radishes, transplanted lettuce and onions grown from sets. These primary crops, having reached marketable size, are removed, the ground stirred and the herb plants transplanted from nursery beds or cold frames.
Often the principal herbs—sage, savory, marjoram and thyme—are set close together, both the rows and the plants in them being nearer than recommended further on. The object of such practice is to get several crops in the following way: When the plants in the rows commence to crowd one another each alternate plant is removed and sold or cured. This may perhaps be done a second time. Then when the rows begin to crowd, each alternate row is removed and the remainder allowed to develop more fully. The chief advantages of this practice are not only that several crops may be gathered, but each plant, being supplied with plenty of room and light, will have fewer yellow or dead leaves than when crowded. In the diagram the numbers show which plants are removed first, second, third and last.