Natural Health Care
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Planting and Cultivating Herbs
Preparing the Ground/Planting
It is important in the planning of a growing area for herbs that you take into consideration certain factors:
Before deciding which herbs you are going to plant, you will want to decide what they are to be grown for. Most of the more common herbs can be grown from seed; it is generally best to start the seeds indoors in small containers. This will give you the opportunity to better control the growing conditions and insure that you have strong, healthy plants in your herb garden.
When starting herbs from seed, you will first prepare a soil mixture of sand, loam, and peat-moss, in equal parts, with a sprinkle of lime added. Fill your containers with this mixture and sow the seeds about 1/4" to 1/2" deep, covering them loosely. Be sure to soak the containers well. Punch hole in a piece of clear plastic and cover your containers, leaving the clear plastic loose around them. Your seeds should begin to show leaves in 10 to 14 days. Check the literature on each herb to be sure of its germination period. Certain herbs can take as long as 8 to 10 weeks to come up. It is important to remove the plastic cover periodically to prevent the growth of fungus or mold. After the first pair of leaves can be seen, you must not disturb the plants until the second pair of leaves comes up through the soil. This is called the *hardening* period. Certain herbs, such as the tarragon, must be propagated from root or stem cuttings. Some must be planted by separating root clumps and planting the offsets. A bit of research will tell you precisely which herbs can and cannot be grown from seed.
The procedures for root and stem propagation is, of course, a bit different than starting your herbs from seed. It is always wise to get to know the plants that you are growing, so that you can provide them with the best environment. In return, the herbs will serve you with rich oils, sure medicinal properties, culinary delights and pleasant aromatics.
The cultivating procedure used to prepare the ground for planting is going to vary, depending on what you are growing and why. Plants have individual needs and varying benefits. Some are good for others. Some will kill others, if planted too closely together. The soil needs to be prepared for the greatest benefit of the plants. It is always best to use only natural fertilizer, peat moss, compost, mulch, and bone meal in the soil that you plan to grow herbs in. It is best to add food for young herbs to the soil before placing them out in the garden.
Just as people have preferences, so do plants. Some of the herbs you may want to grow will like the sunshine and some will be happier in the shade. Some will need an alkaline soil with a lot of sand for drainage and some will prefer a thick, muddy soil to thrive on. Depending on what herbs you are growing and what the purpose is for them, you should prepare the soil to create the most excellent environment for the plants.
Keep in mind that there are certain plants that are beneficial to one another when planted in close proximately. This is commonly referred to as *Companion Planting.* Alfalfa and clover are good to plant in areas where the other plants need a lot of nitrogen, as both of these will add nitrogen to the soil..
You may arrange your herbs in any fashion you choose, keeping in mind that some will make great companion plants for others. For instance, it has been noted that roses and garlic will thrive very well together. The Native Americans have long since known that corn and pumpkins make wonderful companions in the garden. Before starting your garden and preparing your soil, you might find it beneficial to do a bit of research on the plants you are planning to grow.
In planning your garden, you will want to draw out a picture of how you want it to look when the plants are thriving. Any size and shape is fine, although I have found that my herbs thrive better, grow faster, and work better if grown in a circular garden. It is an easy arrangement to tend to and it looks attractive, as well. Grow a circle of the tallest-growing herbs in the center, with a second ring of the medium-height herbs, and an outer rings of the lower-growing varieties. It is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also utilitarian. By leaving narrow *walkways* from the perimeter to the center, like the spokes of a wheel, it will be easy for you to get to all the plants...
It is well worth taking note that most herbs prefer the warmest side of the yard and many will grow in *rock gardens*, as the rocks absorb and give off heat to the plants. Herbs will have a difficult time growing to maturity if they are planted near the roots of trees, as they will have to compete for nutrients from the soil. Direct sunlight is best for most herbs. It is best, when possible, to grow your herbs away from the base of trees, as the herbs must compete for the nutrients in the soil.
Well-drained soil is very important, as most herbs will not do well in soggy mud. Drainage is not too much of a problem, though. It requires a bit of work, but the outcome is well worth the work. You can dig a trench about a foot wide and a foot deep, wherever you are going to plant your herbs. First, lay in a layer, about 6" deep, of large rock pieces (from 6 to 8" across). Then Lay in a couple of inches of pea gravel. The top 4" is filled with soil, bone meal, compost, and peat moss. Simply lay your herb seeds on the prepared soil mixture and cover with about a 1" layer of soil and peat moss, mixed. Rich, dark, well-aerated, well-drained soil is essential to the quality of herbs you will get from your garden.
Tending the plants
Herbs are often said to be *tender* or *delicate* plants and many of them are difficult to grow. This is because they are easily choked out by other plants, such as the taller grasses and vining, ivy-type plants. The vines on Creeping Charlie and Wandering Jew will quickly subdue an herbal plant in a fight for the nutrients of the soil. For this reason, it is essential to a successful herb garden to spend the time necessary for weeding.
The roots of the herbs require a great deal of oxygen and water. They take in only a small amount at a time, so it is imperative for you to spend the time needed to tend to the hoeing and watering. By hoeing in between the plants about once or twice a month, you will aerate the soil. This will allow the oxygen to reach the roots of your herbs more readily and more easily. Watering in the early morning and in the evening is usually best for the herbs. As they will succumb to burn if the leaves are wet during the heat of the sun, it is best not to water them at this time of day. Listen to what Nature tells you. There is dew on the plants in the morning. The air cools and the humidity usually rises during the early evening.
Some of your herbs may require more heat than the others. A greenhouse for your plants is not difficult to build. There are many patterns and instructions in building magazines at your libraries. If you live in an area that tends to be too cool for your plants, a greenhouse and a small heater is a wonderful way to grow your herbs. Keep in mind that your plants are much like people. They need oxygen, food, sunlight, water, warmth and companionship.
Plants also like to be spoken to. I know a lot of people say this is bunk, but I have experimented on my own. I have planted 2 plants from a pony pack, each the same size and each as healthy as the other. I have put music in the room with one plant and made it a point to talk to it. I have placed the other plant in all the right conditions, only with no music and no speaking to it. The plant I spoke to and played music for was about a third again as large as the other one in three months. I have done the same experiment several times, each time with the same results.
Your herb garden will provide you with years of delight if you take the necessary steps in the beginning. Remember, herbs are our friends. They are gift to us from the earth. If we treat them with loving care, they will return the same right back to us.
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