When planning an herbal garden it is important to decide what herbs you want to grow. Then decide where you're going to plant them. Will it be indoors or outdoors? Is there enough sunlight? Is the soil loose with good drainage or very firm and rocky? And so on; these are just a few things you will want to consider in the planning stage. Once you have decided what herbs you want, it's a good idea to separate them into groups. Separate the perennials from the annuals, and separate the herbs that will need full sun from the ones that grow well in partial shade. It's a good idea to plant the taller herbs in back and the shorter ones in front of the garden so that all may benefit from good sunlight. Be sure to make space between the rows. This is important so that you can reach all the plants for watering and upkeep. I place stepping stones in my garden. They not only look very nice, but I find it easier for upkeep and harvesting.
THE RIGHT SOIL
When I decided to start my herb bed, I walked out to the yard and looked at the area I wanted to plant my herbs in. I dug up a small portion of the soil. To say it was slightly less than perfect would be a masterpiece of understatement. It was too firm and rocky, with a mild to moderate amount of clay. This a common soil problem in many areas. A good remedy for this is to till up the soil and add equal parts of peat,fertilizer, and compost. I also added some perlite and a small amount of sawdust. Peat is made up of old plant material and it is on the acidic side and it comes from bogs. Perlite is a volcanic mineral. You have seen it as those little white beads in potting soil. Compost is made up of old clippings and food material mixed together and left to combine over several months. Fertilizer is usually made up of manure, and can be obtained at any nursery. Mix all of these well with the outdoor soil. This combination is also good for using in raised beds along! with the usual top soil or potting soil.
Another good idea for planting in poor soil is to plant in clay pots and bury them 2/3 into the ground. An advantage to this is in the fall you can always dig them up and bring them indoors for maintenance through the winter months. A word of caution if you choose to use clay pots. You'll want to make sure that they are very clean and free of bacteria before you use them. You can clean them by submerging them in a mix of 1 part bleach and 9 parts very hot but not boiling water. Let them soak for several hours then rinse well and allow them to air dry .You can clean your garden tools in much the same way. Or you can wipe them off with rubbing alcohol and let them air dry.
After cleaning the pots, paint the insides with lead free cement paint. This will prevent the water from being absorbed into the soil around the pots. There is no need to paint the pots if you're keeping them indoors.
If you are growing from seeds, it's best to start in early March, so the seedlings will be ready for planting in early May. Follow the package instructions as to how deep to plant the seeds. Another way to start from seeds is called presprouting. Wet a paper towel and place the seeds on it then cover it with another wet paper towel. Place it in a sealed plastic bag. If kept in a warm spot the seeds should begin to sprout within a couple of days. Then place them into the soil. Be sure the seed plants have at least 12 to 14 hours of good sunlight each day. If you live in a cooler area and it's not possible to leave the plants outside then a good plant light will do just as well. If you plan to keep your herb garden indoors in pots, then a plant light would be a very good investment, unless you have a large window with a lot of warmth and sunlight. I almost always plant under the cancer moon. This is generally a good moon for planting almost anything.
One very important point to be aware of if you're planting herbs for consumption, never use a chemical pesticide on them. You don't want to eat that stuff. I always use an insecticidal soap in my herb garden and in the pots I keep outside. You can find them at most nurseries and they are environmentally friendly.
Another problem you might come across is mildew. It looks like a white powder on the leaves. If you see this starting you will have to pull the whole plant and some of the surrounding soil as well. Whatever you do, don't throw any diseased plants into your compost heap. It will infect the whole thing. Be sure to keep the plants well trimmed for good air circulation. Sunlight is also important for keeping them dry. Another problem is called "Damping Off." I didn't know what this was when I first saw it in the garden. It looked awful. It's a fungus infection on the plants that kills them just after they are planted. Like mildew it is caused by too much moisture. Again you will have to pull up the plant along with some of the surrounding soil. If the plant is in a pot make sure that you clean the pot as stated earlier. The person I spoke with at the local nursery here, who is also an herbalist, told me to water the new plants with a combination of chamomile and nettle tea. It helps to kill the fungus until they are ready to be planted outside.
When harvesting your herbs it's best to harvest them when they are dry. For flower harvesting, take them only after they have bloomed. The only exception that I know of is with lavender. Harvest lavender before the buds open if possible. For harvesting leaves be sure to take them before the flowers start to bloom if you can. When harvesting roots, dig them up in the fall, making sure you leave some to regrow next year. When harvesting seeds wait until the seeds are just starting to fall off the plants. For drying your herbs just snip off a few sprigs from the plant and tie them into small bundles and hang them to dry in a cool dry area. You can also dry them by laying them on a flat rack made out of window screening. This way air will circulate on all sides of the plants. I recommend the rack method for drying the roots. It works much better for them.
STORING YOUR HERBS
Once the herbs are dried you can store them in clean dark glass jars with tight fitting lids. If you don't have dark glass jars just use the regular canning jars. Sometimes they are called Mason Jars. Another way of storing them is in a clean tin can with a tight fitting lid. Then you can enjoy your home grown herbs for months to come. Good luck and happy gardening.
Ajay Patole is a qualified management professional working as sales manager and runs a site 'Venturemall',a cool hangout to play money games,buy and sell in auctions,date and photochat. Rediscover true colors of life at http://www.topica.com/lists/venturemall. Also he runs a community 'Venturecon', for entrepreneurs which is available at URL http://groups.msn.com/venturecon.