Herbs are a great addition to any garden. They are widely used to add spice and flavor to food. Some swear by their healing properties. Still others just love to preserve them for their beauty or scent.
There is no doubt that growing your own herb garden can be quite rewarding. But once one starts living a self-sufficient lifestyle and providing for 80% or more of their own food, growing an herb garden can become quite overwhelming and often goes by the wayside.
What is one to do? Give up? Perhaps.
But before you do that, consider some of these tips to help you make it more manageable and less intimidating.
Don’t Plan For Fresh Use
Specifically, if you are in your first year or two (or few) of living a self-sufficient life, then herbs shouldn’t be as high on your list as some other things like your growing a garden with the next year’s worth of food in it, preserving that entire garden, taking care of your animals, gathering enough wood to heat your house all winter, etc.
The first few years when you’re just trying to get into the swing of things, and keep your head above water, it can be disheartening when you find out that the foods you want to cook together aren’t in season at the same time. It can make you feel like a failure–especially when all over the internet it looks like everyone else is doing it.
So many years I have had to take a couple hours (because really, who has more time than that?) to just harvest a particular herb for the next year. Maybe I get to use it fresh when it’s ready, but if I really want it in our diet, I’ve got to get it in and done.
Once you’ve been growing herbs for some period of time, you’ll get the opportunity to use them fresh. And if you live in a zone where they thrive and you have a longer growing period, then you’ve got a leg up. But don’t let an herb garden kill your inspiration when you’re just getting started.
Plan to grow them, harvest them, and preserve them for later use. You’ll save your sanity.
As mentioned in the above section, herbs aren’t going to be the highest priority on your list when you’re just getting started. And let’s be honest, although you’ll have more in place the second year than you did the first, you’re still going to be just as busy as you were your first year setting things up.
If you wait until you “have the time” to set up an herb garden, it may never get done.
This is where perennials will come in. If you can get just one going your first year, it will be there every year after that. It will be one more thing you don’t have to do from scratch.
I love my oregano patch. It’s beautiful, it brings in the bees, and most years all I do is harvest from it. I definitely don’t have the time to plant it and tend to it every year.
Some years you’ll be able to grow annual herbs, and some you won’t. What a joy it is on those busy years to just have your perennials there and waiting for you.
Grow What You Need
There are a few widely popular herbs that “everyone’s growing” that can be tempting to grow in a desire to “keep up with the Jones’.” But if your family isn’t going to use it and you don’t have a plan to barter with it, it can be a waste of your valuable time.
How do you know what you’ll need when you’re planning your garden? Go through your spice rack right now. If it’s not in there right now, it’s probably not a priority. If you don’t eat cilantro, but the seed packages are only $0.50 and look so pretty, you’ll need the smarts and strength to say, “not now.”
Don’t let the temptation to grow a bunch of herbs zap your finances and eventually your spirit.
Cycle What You Grow
Unless you know you’ll want to eat a large amount of a certain fresh herb every year, or it’s something you can grow all year long inside, you don’t “need” to grow it every year.
Some people use a lot of basil, but not necessarily fresh basil.
I dried enough parsley this year for the next three years. I don’t need to grow it next year or the next. And I still have enough oregano from last year to last me this year and next too. Even though it’s a perennial, I won’t have to spend time on it at all.
Until you’ve got yourself easily maintaining your self-sufficient lifestyle, or you live in an area with a long growing season, you’ll probably not have a large herb garden where you grow everything fresh every year.
Grow Some Of Your Herbs In Your Off Season
Our growing season is 70 days. I consider myself lucky if we get 60 of them.
I really need those 70 days for growing my main, big crops. Annual herbs don’t make the list.
It’s true. Most annuals that I want only get grown inside in pots in the winter.
It’s Okay To Let It Go
I lived in a zone 9 and a zone 7 before moving to this zone 4. It’s been a hard adjustment to just “let a crop go.” If I’m frantically preserving beans as fast as I can and the corn needs done, I have to let go of the remaining beans and start on corn. It breaks my heart to “give-up” on the beans. But a few years when I was just beginning I kept going past when I should have and lost major other produce.
It’s been a hard lesson.
Herbs will be like this too. Once you’ve got what you need preserved, as hard as it is, you’ve got to move on. If you can’t get the rest of your crop preserved, you won’t be living self-sufficiently the next year (unless you plan to be hungry).
Herbs still have their place on a sustainable homestead, but the time and attention they receive will have to be managed a bit differently. With some foresight and planning ahead, they will make a great addition.