Growing Herbs Outdoors Year-Round


Herb garden after winter

A few steps from my back porch, close to my kitchen and in a sunny spot of the yard, I’m growing herbs outdoors — in January. I use a simple season-extension device known as a low tunnel to harvest fresh herbs even in the coldest, darkest months of my Kansas climate.

Rather than digging up all the summertime herbs and transplanting them into pots for wintering over indoors (where herbs begin to look anemic after about a month), I use a low tunnel to protect the plants in my existing kitchen herb garden. My low tunnel is a rectangle of 3-mil heavy-duty plastic held above the herbs by a few hoops of CPVC pipes with their ends stuck into the ground. The edges of the plastic are held down with sticks and old bricks. Learn more about this easy DIY project in Low Tunnel Construction: How to Build a Mini Hoop House.

Herbs in low tunnel 

My low tunnel for herbs measures just 3 feet wide by 6 feet long. Inside are sage (only marginally hardy when unprotected in Zone 5b), parsley, marjoram, sorrel, two varieties of thyme and a few rogue seedlings of garlic chives. Often, in late fall, small dill plants will sprout inside the low tunnel. These short seedlings can survive all winter there, but typically last only a few weeks until I harvest them — and fresh dill from the kitchen herb garden in December is a luxury. Parsley plants started from seed in late summer can be transplanted into the tunnel in September, giving the roots time to establish before the first freeze. Other savory plants that can be harvested all winter from my low tunnel are sorrel and Egyptian walking onions. (I also supplement the tunnel-protected plants with rosemary grown in a container and moved indoors before the first frost.)

Any given winter, I save about $65 by growing herbs outdoors under a low tunnel’s layer of plastic. Here’s how I figure the savings: Small packages of fresh herbs cost $2.50 apiece at the grocery store. Every batch of homemade stock incorporates the equivalent of a packet of thyme plus a bunch of parsley. My homemade omelets are garnished with what amounts to a packet of sorrel. One of my household’s favorite dishes, pasta tossed with acorn squash, is dressed with a “packet” of butter-fried sage leaves. Christmas dinner alone can easily use up 4 or 5 packages of fresh herbs. If I had to buy all of this at a grocery store, it would cost $5.00/week, averaged out over 13 weeks of winter. Doing the math, that’s $5.00 x 13 weeks = $65.00.

1/7/2015 1:20:42 PM

Glad to hear you're having success with cattle panels as cold frames, Deborahh. I've also had really good luck with a layer of row cover inside a layer of plastic. For added frost protection, make sure there's an inch or two of space between the layers. Happy gardening!

1/6/2015 9:45:36 PM

I love the way you sandwiched the plastic. Great idea. I use cut cattle panels for my hoops. Very sturdy & reusable. I think I will implement your idea with mine to make awesome tunnels next year!

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters