Suppose you want to do your part to save honeybees, but you have room only for a little garden — on your patio, deck, balcony, or in your postage-stamp sized backyard? Good news: A small herb garden will feed you, your spirit, and your busy bee friends!
Follow the following nine easy steps to a copious herb garden that honeybees [and your dinner guests] will love.
1. Choose your herbs. Don’t worry, we have lots of advice for your herb garden right here.
2. Scope out your spot. Be it a row of outdoor steps, a patio, a balcony, or a patch of yard, your ideal spot will be sunny and — of course — outdoors where the honeybees can share the treat. Burpee reminds us that most culinary herbs come from the Mediterranean and other regions where the sun shines at least 8 hours a day.(2)
3. Select your herb starter. Will you grow your herbs from seeds or plants? Both seeds and plants will work(3), though the Herb Society of America(4) reminds us that some herbs will do better if started from plants or cuttings. You can start with herb plants purchased at any garden center. If you feel more adventurous, follow the Society’s advice on taking cuttings directly from fresh grocery store herbs.(5)
4. Settle on your container by size, price, and eye appeal. If you’re starting from seeds, you can use seed trays, peat pots, egg cartons, yogurt containers, etc. Otherwise, small herbs will be happy in a 10-inch pot and 14-inch pots will work for most herb gardens. Please your personal aesthetic in choosing from classic terra-cotta, decorative ceramic, no-nonsense plastic, durable wood, and even plain concrete. Remember, herbs can be grown separately, in individual pots, or in one large container that doesn’t crowd the plants.(6) Bonnie Plants has terrific advice on container selection for specific herbs like rosemary, basil, chives, thyme, parsley, oregano, and mint for your herb garden.(7) Alert: If you plan on hardy perennial herbs that can stay outside year ‘round, be aware that freeze-thaw conditions can crack ceramic and clay.
5. Love your dirt, but rock it first. Robin Svedi on the gardeningknowhow.com blog reminds us to hold the dirt until we’ve added a layer of rocks or gravel to help with drainage in your herb garden.(8) Note: If you plan to bring your herbs indoors over the winter, use lighter weight styrofoam pellets, which are easier to carry inside.
6. Get down and dirty with your herb garden. The standard advice seems to be “use a good quality potting soil,” but exactly what does that mean? Writing at the “Fine Gardening” blog, Jim Garner thinks the term “potting soil” is a misnomer in today’s world.(9) “Most bags of potting soil contain no field soil, but are composed of a variety of organic and inorganic materials and are referred to as soilless mixes. As a commercial greenhouse operator and horticultural researcher, I’ve worked with all kinds of soilless mixes over the years and believe them to be far superior to soil-based mixes for a variety of reasons.” Garner points out that the right soil mix also facilitates watering (see #7, below). Meanwhile, Eric Fine, a gardener from Montana, offers detailed advice about soils to use in organic herb gardening.(10)
7. Water wisely. Svedi notes that container herbs need to be watered more often. If you notice wilting, your herb is thirsty, she says, so don’t wait to water.(11) Jim Garner reminds us that a good soil mix lets water penetrate quickly and drain freely, while retaining enough water in the smaller spaces. His description of poor watering makes us see the value of careful soil choice. “In a poor mix, water may be slow to penetrate, the medium will become heavy and waterlogged, and a crust from algae or accumulated salts may form on the surface. Under these conditions, the roots become starved for oxygen, plant growth slows, foliage may begin to yellow, and plants often succumb to root rot.”(12)
8. Don’t fuss too much. Once you’ve potted properly, Better Homes and Gardens advises herb enthusiasts to relax. “Don’t give your herbs too much love. Avoid the fertilizer; most herbs will give you the strongest fragrance and flavor if they’re grown in lean soil. Likewise, water wisely; while most herbs prefer dry conditions, some need more moisture to thrive. Use a soil-less potting mix to provide excellent drainage and space for roots to grow.”(13)
9. Enjoy! The honey bees are happy and you’ve done your part. Now, let’s eat!