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Photo: nociveglia on Flickr

Like farmers everywhere, each spring I begin sowing my seeds for my summer crops. Of course most farmers have more of an expansive empire of dirt than my three semi-sun-catching windowsills, but if I can grow eight kinds of basil, 4 kinds of chives, 3 varieties of lettuce, and actual tomatoes in my New York City studio, imagine what you can do. And if you have an actual yard, well there might be no stopping you and your edible garden.

Here’s how to start your own herb garden in 6 easy steps:

  1. Prep: Most herbs can and should be started indoors. You will need to assess your lighting situtation. Most herbs need 4-5 hours of direct sunlight a day. If your gardening area of choice doesn’t get that, invest in some lighting—either a grow light or a flourescent bulb will do the trick. Seedlings need to be equally well watered and well drained, but any pot with drainage will do, even an egg carton with some holes punched in the bottom.
  2. Plant: Fill your pots about 2/3 of the way up with a seed-starting mix soil — available at garden or hardware shops, Home Depot, or most other big box home stores. Sow your seeds, and then sprinkle a layer of soil over them. Shallow is better here. In terms of what to plant, think about what you are going to use the most. I love the idea of growing sage and oregano but rarely cook with them. Therefore I end up with huge amounts of unused herbs at the end of the season and sad, unruly plants. Learn from my mistakes: Grow what you love to eat. Both you and your plants will be happier. If you only use tarragon twice a year, it’s best to buy it when you need it. If you are a freak for salsas, then having tons of cilantro at hand will come in handy.
  3. Water: Aside from light, water is the most important thing to keep your edible empire going. For newly planted seeds, water from the bottom up. Place your pots in a tray with a few inches of water in the bottom and allow the water to be sucked up. Once the soil is moist, take the pots out; never let your plants sit in water. Once the seeds have started to germinate, you can water from above. The soil should be moist to the touch afer watering, not soggy.
  4. Grow: This is the easy part. If everything has gone well in the planting and watering portions of the program then within a week to 10 days you will have sprouts. Watch them casually but carefully. 
  5. Replant: If you are starting herbs indoors to be moved outdoors, you can replant them after a few weeks. Get the herbs used to the great outdoors by moving the pots themselves outdoors in a sunny spot. If the evenings are still cool in your area, then take them in overnight. Once the last chance of frost is gone you can plant them outdoors. Make sure the spot gets 5-6 hours of sun.
  6. Harvest: Within a month your herbs will be ready to eat — as soon as they look ready, they are. Harvest by pinching off as many leaves as you need and leaving the rest of the plant to flourish.

Got your own tips for growing greater herbs? Let us know in the comments.