Home Remedies: Small-Scale Herb Farming

Discover small-scale herb farming by growing your own herbs as you experiment with herbal remedies and learn about their values for health and healing.

| February/March 2000

As with any crop, the scale of herb production varies wildly, from large fields and well-manicured gardens to mall-scale herb farming in or outside the kitchen window. 

As you experiment with herbal remedies and discover their values for health and healing, you may well get to the point of wanting to grow your own rather than remaining dependent on others for your supply. As with any crop, the scale of herb production varies wildly, from large fields and well-manicured gardens to small-scale herb farming using small boxes in or outside the kitchen window. Until you find your sea legs, it's best to begin with more modest sizes and expectations.

Indoor Herb Gardens

Most herbs will grow in containers. The soil should consist of equal parts potting soil, coarse sand and peat moss, all of which can be obtained in hardware or garden supply stores. The pots preferably should be placed in a window that faces south, so as to assure four to five hours of sunlight each day, and they will need to be watered about once a week. The window temperature should be between 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity around 50%. Try to avoid placing plants either near a radiator or a window with open drafts, as these conditions may radically alter the optimum temperature. While plants such as rosemary, bay and chives tolerate cold conditions, most others can be harmed by extremes of temperature in either direction.

During winter months it is best to water the plants with lukewarm water rather than the cold faucet run; frigid temperatures can shock a plant's system.

Most herbs are fairly resistant to pests, though a number are susceptible to aphids, whiteflies, spider mites and caterpillars. Ironically, some herbalists insist that there is more of a pest problem when growing indoors than outdoors. If faced with any pesky interlopers, don't reach for the insecticide. A far better and gentler approach is to hold the hijacked plants under a gentle spray of water. You can also make up a pest-fighter spray by taking advantage of the natural pest-repellent qualities of certain herbs. Pick some leaves from,. for instance, spearmint or rue. Pour boiling water over them and steep for 15 minutes. When cool, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth and pour into a spray bottle.

Limited-Space Outdoor Herb Gardens

If you decide to move your operation outside, keep in mind that less is more . . . at first anyway. One ambition-checking and space-saving device that has been used by hundreds of beginning herbalists is a simple stepladder. Lay a ten-foot ladder horizontally on the ground and use the rungs as divider marks to separate the various herbs. One such "ladder garden" I know of features sections of thyme, basil, sage, parsley, garden burner, summer savory, garlic, tarragon and spearmint.

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