Any chef will tell you that there is no substitute for fresh herbs in your kitchen. If you really want to bring the flavor out in your dishes, don’t reach for the store-bought packaged herbs; head out to your garden and pick some fresh basil and oregano.
Of course, that’s an easy thing to say when you have a home with space for a garden.
If you’re like me, and you’ve been hopping from apartment to apartment for the last four years, getting a garden started is impossible without the space.
Maybe you’re more successful than me in the realty game and have lawn space for your soon-to-be gourmet garden, but you can’t commit the time and energy it takes to keep a garden growing year after year. (Hey, I get it. We’re all busy people).
At this point, getting fresh herbs for your soups, salads and sandwiches becomes more trouble than it’s worth.
At least I thought so, until my girlfriend came across instructions on how to grow herb indoors without an outdoor garden or taking up valuable counter space.
Hanging herb gardens
There are many ways to figure out how to make a hanging herb garden work for you – a simple Google search will bring up thousands of designs and ideas. My favorites are the ones that can be fastened to a wall, because apartment living is all about utilizing space. This way, I can simply turn to that unused wall in my kitchen, pick some basil, and turn back to my soup.
One of the most basic, but also most attractive, hanging herb gardens starts with a 2×4 fastened to the wall. You can do this by simply screwing the board into some studs in the wall, or rigging it like you would a painting, so it hangs from a nail.
Then grab some Mason jars and pipe clamps, which can be bought at nearly any hardware store. Nail the pipe clamps to the wooden base, and then use the pipe clamps to secure the Mason jars.
If you’re super creative (or you’ve already seen this design somewhere on Pinterest) then you can also use chalkboard paint to label which herb is in which jar, or even growing instructions for each herb.
Once you’ve decorated to your heart’s content, get it on the wall and voilà! Your own hanging garden is now ready to be planted and help make gourmet meals.
Possibly the most important herb to grow in your garden, but basil is hard to grow during the winter months.
Start your basil from seeds.
Basil grows best with a lot of sun and warmth, so plan your hanging garden placement near a window that allows a lot of light (try a south-facing window).
Basil is used often in soups, sandwiches and red sauce for pasta, but even making light snacks of tomato, basil and mozzarella cheese between meals provides the motivation I need to wrestle with this herb.
Mint is traditionally used with lamb and various salads, but I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of either. What I am a fan of, especially when summer comes around, are mojitos. If you want the spotlight on you during your summer get-togethers, use fresh mint in your drinks.
Start your mint from seeds, not from clippings.
Unlike basil, mint can thrive well in the shade, but make sure it gets a little sunlight.
If you’re using a larger hanging garden, or you have herbs sharing containers, be careful. Mint grows like a weed and will quickly crowd out any other herb in it’s immediate vicinity.
I don’t think there’s anything much better than freshly baked, warm rosemary bread, but this strong herb is also used in various pizza and pork recipes.
Start your rosemary with a clipping and keep the soil moist after it has started rooting.
Rosemary prefers drier climates to grow in, but the soil shouldn’t ever be totally dry.
Like basil, this plant enjoys sun and warmth, so keep it near a window.
Two words: fresh salsa. If you’re lucky enough to have the room to grow your own tomatoes, gold sticker for you. If not, head down to your local farmer’s market for some. The folks at your party need snacks to go with your now-famous mojitos, so you should get them the good stuff to go with your fresh cilantro.
Also called coriander, it is best started from seeds.
The plant grows quickly, but it doesn’t regrow when you harvest it. Folks at oregonlive.com recommend growing three separate cilantro plants at different growing stages (seed, growing, and harvest-ready) so you never run out.
Your summer party is a hit with the drinks and appetizers, but now your guests are hungry for the main course – this is where your thyme comes in. Thyme goes well with pork, duck and lamb, so break out that grill and start seasoning (remember that heat often kills the fresh flavor of most herbs, so add your thyme after the meat is done cooking).
You can start growing your thyme by rooting a clipping or transferring it from a different location.
Thyme is another sun-loving herb and may even need extra lighting, knowing Washington weather. It will still grow, albeit slowly, in shadier areas.
Keeping herbs fresh after harvest
Every once in a while, you’re going to harvest too much of your herb, so you’ll need to learn how to keep them fresh in the fridge. Herbs can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and sealed in a zip-lock bag for up to five days and retain their freshness.
If you were really overzealous with your harvesting and need to keep them fresh for longer, you can put the harvested herbs, stem down, in a jar of water.
The water should only reach about an inch up the stems.
Put the jar and the herbs in a zip-lock bag and change the water every day. This should keep the herbs fresh for at least a week.
Reach Ray Still at email@example.com or 360-825-2555 ext. 5058. Follow him on Twitter@rayscottstill for more news, pictures and local events.