Growing Your Own Herbs Successfully (Strawberries too!)
Back in March, 2015, I wrote an article Tips for Growing Your Own Herbs. So many read this article and I still receive questions and comments about growing herbs. Here I am a year later, with a follow-up article on Growing Your Own Herbs Successfully.
Recently, I refurbished an old chicken nesting box for this years’ herbs. I wanted something that would offer protection from the elements because rain, wind and cold seem to prevail longer into the spring than in California. I also wanted to plant some different herbs other than the oregano, thyme, rosemary and basil that came through the winter months successfully thanks to our sunroom. I also wanted to try growing strawberries!
PREPARING THE NEST BOXES
First, I lined each nesting section with coconut fiber I purchased by the foot from our local nursery.
I tried using this razor cutter but it only made a mess of the coconut fiber. I finally ended up using a large pair of scissors. It was extremely difficult to cut. But, once the individual pieces were in each section I knew the work was worth it.
This fiber will help hold the water and keep the potting soil from leaking onto the bottom row of plants. I have used this matting before in hanging pots and it is a wonderful water conserving tool.
Next, I filled each section with potting soil about 6” deep. To fill in the 14 sections and three (3) other pots, I used one bag – 2 cubic feet – of potting soil.
I grew strawberries with great success when we lived in California, and I wanted to try growing strawberries here in Tennessee. I decided to choose 2 or 3 different strains to see which one worked best.
The first type I planted is Toscana (from Holland). This is an ever-bearing plant which means it has fruit and flowers on the runners at the same time. It likes to be in full sun and requires low watering.
The second type I planted is Cupido, (a new type of strawberry) that is heart shaped. This is also an ever-bearing plant. It likes the sun and again, requires low watering. It is the plant in the opening picture.
The last type I planted is All Star. This is a large plum size strawberry. It also likes the sun and a moist but well drained soil. I planted all 7 of these plants in the bottom row of the nesting boxes.
When growing strawberries, make sure the fruit doesn’t sit directly on the soil too long before picking as the berry will become soggy. I cut a hole in the middle of a piece of shade cloth and spread it around the plant allowing the runners to grow over it. If you don’t have shade cloth, newspaper works well too.
HERBS – DIFFERENT THIS TIME AROUND
Rather than continuing to grow more of the herbs I already had, I wanted herbs that were different and would produce fragrant flowers that would attract butterflies. Falling into this category are Orange Mint, Lemon Verbena, Rue, Garlic Chives, Sweet Marjoram, and Purple Sage. All these grow to about 12” high which is a perfect height for the nest sections.
The exception is Purple Sage which I planted in a separate pot because it will grow to 3’ and will eventually have to re-potted into a large container. It likes full sun and a drier soil. It does not do well in shade. It is excellent added to beans, sauces, pizza, salads, fish and chicken.
Orange Mint likes moist soil and full sun. It is good to use in salads, dressings, desserts, teas, lemonades and alcoholic drinks. If you pinch the leaves, it actually smells like oranges! I can hardly wait to try it in tea!
Rue (Ruta Graveolens) or Herb of Grace, is not found for sale too often. It is an old herb that isn’t requested too much by gardeners. But, when I found it, I wanted to add it to the collection. It likes full sun and a soil that is drier. It has little yellow flowers and green-gray stems that attract butterflies. It can grow to 24” if not trimmed down. If you dry the leaves of this plant and place them in a cloth bag, the dry leaves will serve as an effective bug repellant. Because of its slight toxicity, it should be used only in small quantities in foods and drinks. It has a strong bitter taste that when dried can be added to tea for a deeper flavor. Rue can be applied directly to the skin to treat arthritis and sprains and reduces swelling. It is also good for a variety of other homeopathic treatments such as gout.
Garlic chives are also known as Chinese Chives. It is a drought resistant plant that likes full sun. It has a delicate garlic flavor that you can add to vinegars, salads and soups. You can also use the flowers of the plant. If you’ve grown chives, you can grow garlic chives!
Lemon Verbena smells wonderful. It likes full sun and likes a drier soil. It can be used in place of lemon zest in recipes. Place 5 leaves in a cup of sugar then cover it and wait a few days then use the sugar in recipes and you will get a subtle lemon flavor. It can be dried and added to tea.
Sweet Marjoram produces an herb that is sweet and spicy. It likes the sun and a soil that is moist but not overly moist. It is good added poultry, egg dishes, soups and salads.
There is one other plant that for now sits on our front porch. It is the Stevia, or Sugar Plant.
This plant is very sweet, in fact, has 300 times the sweetness of sugar. An interesting fact about this plant is that the more sun it gets and the warmer the plant is kept, the sweeter the leaves will be! The porch gets sun all day so for now it will stay there, later in the season it will join the other herbs back by the planter. The plant likes a moist, but not wet soil. I am finding that because it is sitting in direct sun, I need to check daily to see if it needs water. I place it on the porch at night as I don’t want it fully exposed to the cold. It grows 2’ to 4’ so these plants will also need to be re-potted. The leaves can be dried and stored, covered, for up to 3 or 4 months to be used to sweeten whatever you desire. Yes, this is the same stevia you can buy in markets!
COLD WEATHER PROTECTION
The herbs and strawberries I planted are still subject to some cold nights here in Tennessee. We are getting night readings in the 30s. So, until warmer weather is here, I clip plastic to the front of the boxes each evening, and remove in the morning and leave it off all day. It’s good protection for the plants because they don’t tolerate nighttime temperatures below 40 degrees.
WINTER CARE AND GROWING SEASON
I’m looking forward to seeing how these herbs and strawberries do. Also, when winter comes, I’ll be covering the strawberries with straw so they can survive the winter and be ready again for the following year. I’m going to try doing the same with the herbs. I’m looking forward to a great growing season! I hope I’ve encouraged you to try some of these different herbs (and strawberries too!)