This garden is coordinated by the Churchill Park Community Garden Collective a group of gardeners and community volunteers. We look forward to the upcoming season and hope that you will join our garden community. Please feel free to explore this website for more information.

If you have any questions or would like to join, please contact us at garden@opirg.ca.

June 12, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Herb Gardens

Herbs are a staple in many of the community gardens at Churchill Park this year and why not? They are some of the most versatile and economically viable things you can plant as they can be harvested multiple times throughout the season, used in dozens of recipes, and, with the rising prices of fresh herbs, save you a fair bit of money.
Has this piqued your interest?
If you want to start a herb garden the first thing to do is look up what grows well in your area and how much space you need for them. For Ontarians, this is a great source: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/02-049.htm. From this list pick out herbs that you think you will use most often. Next, you want to think about how much space you have available and when you will be able to plant them. One of the great thing about herbs is that many can be planted all summer long and can grow in large plots, small backyard gardens and even in windowsill pots. Once you have all this information you can grow your herbs either by planting seeds or full plants.
If you’re still a little unsure about herb gardens or just want to know more, I’ve accumulated some of my favorite herbs, where they grow best and some of my favorite recipes for them. Enjoy!

1.     Oregano
Oregano is one of my favorite herbs because it’s extremely versatile and can be used in everything from marinades, to salad dressings, and from pasta to pizza. I use oregano a lot to make homemade croutons (cut up a piece of bread and add a bit of olive oil, oregano, garlic powder and basil and microwave it for two minutes until hard).
It is a perennial, which means you can propagate a single plants for years. Oregano is also great because it can grow well even in less-than-ideal conditions like drier soil.  

2.     Sweet Basil
Second to oregano, basil is another of my favorites. Its equally handy and used in pizza, bread, and in stir-fries. Basil is a source of iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin C. It’s also used in gardens to repel harmful insects (including mosquitoes).
It is an annual and grows fairly well in Ontario, as long as it is planted in mid to late spring when there is no chance of frost. If you want to get a head start though, you can plant it indoors and then transplant it.

3.     Thyme
It’s always a good “time” for thyme (and even if you don't appreciate the pun it does have some truth to it). While rarely used on its own, thyme is a great complement to other herbs in sauces, soups and on meats. There are also several varieties, including lemon thyme, which is a great flavoring fish.
Thyme is a perennial and grows best in well-drained, non-acidic soil with lots of sun. An interesting fact about thyme is that in the Middle Ages soldiers bathed in thyme to increase their bravery. 

4.     Rosemary
       Like thyme, Rosemary also has a certain folklore attached to it. In ancient times it was thought to increase memory and was an emblem for fidelity. It has also been used in many religious ceremonies. Nowadays, it’s used mostly as a seasoning for poultry and potatoes. Personally, my favorite is putting it on roast potatoes with a little bit of salt and olive oil.
While it can be slightly temperamental and requires lots of sun, wind shelter and non-acidic soil, successful rosemary can be harvested multiple times in a growing season. 

5.     Chives
Growing up we always had a small garden in our backyard, part of which would be filled with chives from early spring to fall. With a mild onion flavor they work well in everything from stir-fries, to marinades to salads. Chives also taste great straight from the garden.
Chives are easy to plant (requiring just the bulb) and don’t need a lot of looking after. You can plant them and harvest them throughout the gardening season. 

6.     Lavender
Lavender is something that can be planted just for aesthetic reasons. Most produce pretty purple flowers and smell great. While this can sometimes attract annoying insects, it also entices beneficial ones like bees. Lavender can be used to make lavender oil by placing a bit of it in a jar with oil in the sunlight for 48 hours and shaking it occasionally. You repeat this process until it reaches the right aroma and store it for up to 6 months in a dark container. It can also be used in baking (using a recipe for lavender sugar which can be found in some gardening books as well as online).
Lavender grows well in Ontario and it is a perennial. There are hundreds of varieties, but most can be planted until late summer. An important fact to note before you plant, however, is that lavender spreads very easily so it needs to be watched carefully or potted separately.

7.     Parsley
Another herb with literally hundreds of uses (and benefits), parsley can be used in soups, meats, salads and potatoes. It is also commonly used as a garnish on main dishes. Parsley is also added to some herbal teas because it is a great source of vitamin A and C.  
It is a biennial (usually treated as an annual though). It is fairly hardy and can be cut many times in a single season. 

8.     Mint
Mint is used in many herbal remedies for nausea and digestive issues, as well as as a natural breath freshener. There are many different kinds of mint from the popular spearmint and peppermint, to rarer varieties like chocolate and orange mint. Fresh mint is commonly used in teas, and as a garnish to drinks like lemonade. However, it can also be used in baking (adding a bit of chopped mint to chocolate chip cookies is a great combo), on salads and in smoothies.
Mint is very hardy and can grow almost anywhere, unfortunately this also means it spreads very easily.  You should try to plant it either in a pot or where it is restricted from invading other plants’ spaces. 

9.     Dill
Dill is another annual that spreads easily and needs a lot of space as they can grow up to a metre tall. If you have the space, however, dill is a delicious herb and a fantastic addition to any garden.
Dill is great on meats, fish, vegetables and potatoes. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer dill can be used to make homemade dill pickles with fresh or bought cucumbers. As a seafood lover though, one of my favorite uses is mixing plain yogurt, a bit of dill and some fresh lemon juice and adding it to salmon. Yum!

10.   Garlic
Garlic is a staple in my house year round. It is a great addition to marinades, stir-fries and side dishes. A great recipe is microwaving a bit of minced garlic until its soft and then spreading it on bread with a bit of butter. This tastes even better if you add a bit of parmesan or herbs like basil and oregano.
Garlic can be planted either in late fall or early spring. It grows fairly well in Ontario (as demonstrated by the multiple plots with thriving garlic this year). 

11.    Anise
As one of the oldest herbs on record, anise has accumulated a number of uses. It is used to calm digestive issues, as an insecticide and some fishermen have even used it as bait. It is also great in salads, stir-fries, side dishes and as a flavoring in baked goods.
Anise is an annual and needs about 130 days of frost-free weather to reach maturity. It prefers sunny areas with well-drained soil. 

So, this is by no means an exhaustive list but it hopefully has helped you start your herb garden this summer. If you want to know more about any of the herbs listed or if you’re favorite herb isn’t here please comment.
Also, for those of you who still want to know more about herbs, please join us later in the season for a workshop on herbs (more info to come).

And, as always, happy gardening!

My name's Laura Crump and I'm a third year student in the Arts and Science program at McMaster University. I've been gardening my whole life but this is my first year at Churchill Park Community Garden. I'm really looking forward to working here this summer, 2012.

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