Herbs the thyme of your life

Herb garden, including purple basil and calendula.
Herb garden, including purple basil and calendula. Justin Russell

FOR GARDENERS like me who are utterly addicted to growing their own food, culinary herbs are something of a “gateway drug”. It all started with a free packet of basil seeds on the cover of Burke's Backyard magazine 13 years ago.

For my wife and I, those many years ago, we had moved into our first house, and having both been raised by farming parents, we were keen to have a go at starting a vegie garden. We were, however, very inexperienced.

Sowing seeds was beyond my repertoire, and I emptied the whole packet of basil seeds into a relatively small pot. To my amazement, the seeds germinated.

The problem is, I'd never heard of “thinning”, where most seedlings are pulled out to give the rest some growing space, so the surface of my pot became a lawn of tiny basil plants. The poor things became stunted, and yellow. Within weeks they'd died.

Fast forward to 2011, and I routinely grow most of my herbs and vegies from seed. I've learnt how to thin. And despite my initial disaster with basil, I've since discovered that herbs are generally very easy plants to grow.

Many will tolerate a range of conditions, from full sun to a fair bit of shade.

They can be grown in the ground or in pots, and many have the advantage of requiring minimal maintenance.

Plus, home grown herbs are delicious. They'll give your cooking a genuine lift.

My advice is to start with the Mediterranean herbs: things like basil, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme.

Start them from seeds, but learn from my early mistakes and sow just a few seeds into small individual pots filled with seed-raising potting mix. Keep the pots evenly moist and put them somewhere warm and bright (like a sunny windowsill).

Within a week or two seedlings should appear.

When the plants are up, take the pots outside for a couple of months, then plant the seedlings out in a sunny position in the garden, or transplant into larger containers filled with quality potting mix.

Once your herbs are growing well, make sure you pick them regularly, and fertilise seasonally with liquid fish emulsion.

This helps keep the plants fresh, and let's face it, who wants to eat a woody old bit of thyme or rosemary.

Keep your herbs cranking along and they'll reward you with bunches and bunches of goodness for years to come.

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