A Beginner’s Herb Garden

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Gardening is a hot topic this week on MDA. Two days ago, Mark gave you the whys — gardening can be therapeutic, it can improve health markers, it can be a great way for people to move frequently at a slow pace, and the list goes on. It’s also a great way to save money on organic produce, to maintain a constant (and self-replicating) supply of edible green things, and to get out into the sun. Let’s just say that gardening is good for you on multiple levels, and if you’ve got the space and the time, you should probably give it a shot.

You might recall that in that same post, Mark mentioned his relative lack of horticultural mastery. This is true for me, too, and a lot of you guys out there as well. You might say that this Worker Bee doesn’t fly far from the hive. Still, I didn’t let that discourage me when the queen (er, king? I’m struggling to maintain the bee metaphor here without tripping over gender issues!) bee tasked me with starting a rudimentary herb garden and then writing about it.

I didn’t want to crash and burn, so I kept things simple with a small selection of basic but essential herbs. Sweet basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and spearmint. Sure, they aren’t as fancy or impressive as heirloom tomatoes, Finnish gooseberries, or white asparagus, but they are a nice assortment of herbs that can conceivably be used every day of the week in a multitude of dishes. And besides, what’s worse than buying a two dollar sprig of rosemary every time you want to cook lamb? Also, if you don’t have the space for a full-on vegetable garden, a few essential herbs in pots are a good compromise. The time required is minimal, the effort is almost nonexistent, and if they wither and die, they’re just herbs — not kids, pets, or heirloom tomatoes or anything you’ve put real time and money into.

I also went for young potted plants from Trader Joe’s. Yeah, yeah, it’s not sexy and I may have to turn in my Primal Cred card, but I’m a beginner, a true neophyte, and I wanted to chronicle the simplest course forward for someone like me interested in growing some herbs. Realistically, a beginner with a busy schedule is going to start from pots. If I started from seeds or cuttings and got nowhere, how interesting would that be? In future cycles, I think I’ll start from seeds or cuttings, and hopefully we can get that up on MDA, too, but for now, I’m going potted.

I opted to keep my herbs outdoors for a couple reasons. First, my indoor cats would decimate them. For a couple of obligate carnivores fed a species-appropriate prey model diet, these jerks sure do love chewing on vegetation. Plus, it seems like half the plant world is toxic to felines, so I’m going to play it safe and keep the plants outdoors. Secondly, outside air and natural sunlight — even the spotty coastal variety — are best. Indoor herbs can sometimes get powdery white mildew, due to humid, staid indoor air, and I question the ultimate efficacy of UV-B filtered sunlight (most, if not all, windows block the bulk of UV-B rays) and basic indoor lights (although it is SF and the resources are definitely available, I won’t be rigging up any massive grow lights). Also, I just prefer the romantic notion of growing outdoors. If things get dicey outdoors, I can always move them inside for a spell.

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