1. Start small
One of the biggest mistakes we make as novice gardeners is taking on too much, too soon. We tend to go slightly overboard with visions of vast beds filled with fresh, organic produce (or maybe that’s just me). We hit the nursery and become overwhelmed with choice and suddenly we’ve arrived home with thirteen types of tomato (in the middle of winter!) an apple tree and a couple of pumpkins.We get them home, they die or fail to thrive and we give up altogether.
While self-sufficiency is certainly a wonderful goal to aspire to you don’t need to go quite so far to get your garden on, at least not until you’re feeling a little more confident.
Before you go in head first why not start at the beginning with a small pot of your favourite herb? Think about the herb you buy most at the supermarket or farmers market, now imagine yourself grabbing a handful each time you need it. Then head to your local nursery, grab yourself a pot that’s not too big, a bag of potting mix, and a seedling and you’re almost halfway there.
Good herbs for beginners:
Parsley is a great herb for beginners because it will reward you when you’re doing it right – it likes to be kept moist and to be fed and trimmed often. The cooler months are prime for parsley, too.
Mint is a hardy herb that tastes so much better when it is picked moments before it is needed – I always grow my mint in pots as it can go a little feral in a bed or garden. It likes part shade, so it’s perfect for the windowsill.
Coriander is the herb I think I buy most from the farmers market, it can be a little fussy but only if you overthink it. It loves the cooler months and will thrive in a moist, sunny spot. Pick often to stop it from going to seed.
2. Location, location, location
Sunlight is so important for the growth of your plant but too much and you might find it burnt to a crisp, so before you buy think about where you’re going to put your little pot for maximum happiness. A sunny windowsill, verandah or balcony is a great spot for an herb pot, especially if it gets a bit of shade in the afternoon when the sun is hottest.
I like to try to put my pots close to a water source (if possible) and somewhere I can see them all the time. If they’re in out of the way places that are hard to get to, or easily forgotten about then you will be less likely to remember to tend to them regularly. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Water. Often.
It does feel kinda silly saying this but it’s true, you need to water your plant and probably more often than you think. Don’t wait for your little plant to start looking all floppy and sad to top it up, by that stage the damage may well have been done. The best bet for a little herb pot is to keep a glass of water next to the pot and top it up every few days when you walk past. The less effort you have to exert when it comes to watering, the better.
If you can get a pot with a reservoir in the bottom (ie. a self-watering pot) then your watering regime just got even easier! Just don’t forget to top it up every now and then or you’ll have the same problem.
4. Feed me!
Growing plants in pots is awesome, especially if you don’t have good soil, are renting or, for that matter, live in an apartment and don’t have any soil at all. It does mean there are a few complicating factors that you don’t get with garden beds, but nothing that can’t be dealt with. One of the most common problems with growing in a pot is run-off, meaning that all the good stuff that was in your potting mix that you paid top dollar for at the hardware store, runs out the bottom of the pot when you water. Annoying! Your plant is also using the nutrients in the soil to grow so sooner or later that lovely rich soil will become nothing more than sand which, if you think about it, is a bit like asking your plant to live on rice crackers and wondering why it’s not thriving. The best way to keep your plant fed and happy, therefore, is to feed it regularly. I really like Seasol and Powerfeed (not sponsored!) and use it throughout my garden on a fortnightly basis. It’s a bit smelly but your plant will love it and it will help extend the life of your soil by many months.
5. Pick me!
Give your plant a couple of weeks to establish itself in its new home before you start picking its leaves, once you start seeing some new growth on it then it is safe to start picking and doing so will encourage growth. Easy does it to start with though! Remember that your new little houseguest needs its leaves to generate food so try to only take about 30-40% of the leaves and leave the rest for next time. As your plant grows you will notice you’re able to pick more frequently. I tend to work from the outside in with my herbs so that the older leaves are constantly making way for new growth.
So there you have it, five ways to get your garden on.