Herbs are great food crops for balcony and small-space gardens – StCatharinesStandard.ca

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By MarkSpecial to the StarBen CullenTue., April 13, 2021timer3 min. readFirst-time gardeners can be a bit apprehensive when it comes to growing vegetables and fruit. With all the details and decisions involved, where do you start?And yet, the desire to grow edibles on your condo balcony or backyard deck is very motivating. We have seen more interest than ever from people who want to grow their own food over this past, pandemic year.We suggest starting with the low-hanging fruit (pardon the pun) and plant the easy-to-grow and sow plants that fit into the space you have.Among the best and obvious starter plants are herbs.Most herbs are easy to grow because they require little water or maintenance since they originate in the Mediterranean region where it is naturally hot and dry. It is no wonder that rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, borage and sage can survive nearly any level of care — or neglect. The enemy, if there is one, is too much TLC: namely overwatering and fertilizing. Note that all herbs thrive in the sun. Mint, oregano and parsley can tolerate less than a half day of sunshine, but do better with more. The others need a minimum of six hours of sun each day to perform well. Generally, herbs do not demand a lot of room. A window box about 30 centimetres (12 inches) deep and wide, and a metre (3 feet) long will provide enough space for up to five herb plants.How to grow great herbs: Use a standard potting soil mix with about 20 to 30 per cent sand added to “open” it up and allow water to drain freely. Be sure that the container has drainage holes for the water to move through. A one-metre-long window box should have at least three drainage holes spaced evenly, each about 3 cm in diameter. It is not too late right now to start many fast-growing herbs from seed. Sow mint, oregano, basil, dill and borage now. All others are best purchased as small plants, which should be kept indoors until the threat of frost has past, late in May, before planting out.Aggressive and fast-growing herbs perform best when planted in single pots. Mint and oregano are two such fast-growers. Dill needs a large container, about four litres in size, since it matures to over a metre in height. Dill also self-sows with abandon so, when you see it germinating in your containers or garden, pull the small transplants or move them to another container.Herbs are not hungry like many other plants. While we recommend you fertilize tomatoes with a good organic-based plant food, not so with herbs. Water is required only as the soil dries to about 3 cm deep. We recommend using the finger test by pushing your finger into the plant’s soil, up to the second knuckle. If the soil feels damp or cool, skip the watering for now. Come July and August, the story is rather different when the heat hits home and most plants enter their fastest growth stage. Then, you will find that you are watering much more frequently.Loading...Loading...Loading...Loading...Loading...Loading...Basil is an herb anomaly. A native of Asia and India, it requires more water than most and benefits from a regular application of mild fertilizer. We grow it in its own container, given its peculiar habits and contrary demands. Be sure that you position all your herbs as near to your kitchen as possible; you’ll find your consumption of fresh herbs is in direct proportion to how accessible they are when you are planning, or cooking, meals.Other small-space crops: These include leaf lettuce, mesclun mix, arugula, radishes, and peppers. While tomatoes are the most popular food plant that Canadians grow, to perform well each plant requires no less than two bushels of space at its roots.A pepper plant will grow and produce an abundance of peppers in a four litre (one gallon) container. They are less demanding of water, fertilizer and do not need staking, as tomatoes do. Like tomatoes and most herbs, peppers do require a minimum of six hours of sunlight.For the both the experienced gardener and the newbie, herbs and compact vegetables are easy to grow and high producers in relation to their growing space.Mark and Ben Cullen are expert gardeners and contributors for the Star. Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkCullen4
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