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Herbs are perfect for kitchen gardens

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of biweekly columns from the Becker County Master Gardeners, who are part of the University of Minnesota Extension.

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The herb garden outside JoAnn Dobis's kitchen contains parsley, basil and lemon balm. (JoAnn Dobis / Special to the Tribune)
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The kitchen garden, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, is a “garden in which plants for use in the kitchen are cultivated.”

At one time the kitchen garden was a standard part of most households. It does not require a large area and can work well as a raised bed, or a container garden on a deck, patio, or balcony. The kitchen garden can be a combination of many things: vegetables, herbs, or flowers. One of the most attractive things about a kitchen garden is the variety of plants it contains. These plants can provide produce, color, or a pleasant aroma.

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This lavender plant is just one example of how to make a kitchen garden smell as good as it looks. (JoAnn Dobis / Special to the Tribune)

Herbs are excellent plants to put in a kitchen garden. They have one of three growing cycles: annuals which need to be planted every year, biennials which have a two-year growing cycle, and perennials which come back year after year. Many perennial herbs are considered tender perennials and cannot survive the climate extremes in our area. However, these herbs may be successfully moved indoors for the winter and put back outside during the summer. If you do this, don’t forget to harden the plant in the spring.

Herbs may be further classified by their flavor or use. Robust herbs have a rich, full flavor and are often used for grilling or roasting. Their flavor can survive an extended cooking time. Examples of these herbs are rosemary, thyme, and sage. Fine herbs are usually used near the end of the cooking cycle. They tend to have a delicate flavor and can be eaten raw. Dill, parsley, and basil are examples of fine herbs.

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Herbs, in general, are easy to grow as they do not to require special treatment. However, they do require at least six hours of sun daily and good well-drained soil. Make sure to water and fertilize herbs regularly. An all-purpose liquid fertilizer applied every two weeks works well.

There are three main families of herbs commonly grown in this area. The first is the Alliaceae family. This is the onion family. Chives are a good example of this family of herbs as well as a great example of a perennial herb. Chives require little care, are easy to grow, and are one of the first plants to appear in the spring. They are best if harvested while young. To harvest chives, simply snip them at the base of the plant, wash them, and use a scissors to cut to desired lengths. Chives produce seeds, which can contribute to the plant spreading.

The Lamiaceae, or mint, family is the second herb family commonly grown in the region. It includes a large number of herbs, such as mint, oregano, marjoram, basil, catnip, rosemary, thyme, lavender, summer savory and sage. Some of these herbs are annuals. Others are perennials, many which must be moved inside during winter in our growing zone. Information on overwintering herbs in Minnesota is available on the University of Minnesota Extension website. The bushy perennials in this family are hardy, can be invasive, and usually tolerate heat and dry soil. They include rosemary shrubs, bay trees, flowering lavender bushes, and marjoram plants. The mint family’s annuals, such as basil and parsley can be started by seeds or purchased as bedding plants.

The third herb family commonly planted in Minnesota is the Apiaceae family, or carrot family. It includes dill, cilantro, parsley, and fennel. These herbs are usually grown for their leaves and seeds. Dill and cilantro will flower, produce seed, and reseed themselves.

The kitchen garden pictured in the article is a mixture of herbs and flowers. The flowers are in the back of the garden against the house, while herbs are in the front of the garden. This arrangement works well because the herbs receive full sun and the flowers provide an attractive backdrop to the garden. Because of the invasive nature of some herbs, they have been planted in containers which have been buried in the soil. These containers extend slightly above the mulch line. This gives the herb a boundary. The herbs in this picture include parsley, basil, and lemon balm.

If you plan on planting herbs, there are a variety plans and ideas online. Reputable nurseries have a great deal of information about herbs. There is also a Nation Herb Garden! It is located at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

Sources:

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