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Grow Your Own Garden Pharmacy: Tips for Cultivating Medicinal Herbs at Home


person planting a small plant into the ground


Introduction


Growing your own garden and medicinal herbs can provide many benefits beyond just having fresh produce and herbs on hand. When you grow your own plants, you know exactly where your food comes from and what inputs have gone into it. You can control the quality and grow organic and nutrient-dense produce.


Growing your own also allows you to save money at the grocery store. Many common vegetables and herbs are expensive to buy but inexpensive and easy to grow yourself. You'll also have access to a wider variety of plants, heirloom varieties, and more exotic herbs than you can find at a store.


Having a garden and herbs promotes a healthier lifestyle. Gardening itself provides great exercise, fresh air, stress relief, and satisfaction from reaping what you sow. Eating more homegrown fruits and veggies increases your produce intake and provides medicinal benefits from the herbs.


In this guide, we'll cover tips and ideas for every step of the gardening process. We'll discuss choosing a location, planning out the design, preparing the soil, selecting crops and herbs to grow, starting seeds and seedlings, techniques for planting and maintaining the garden, harvesting produce at peak ripeness, and preserving the harvest to enjoy year-round. Whether you're new to gardening or looking to expand your current garden, these tips will help you grow thriving plants and get the most out of your edible garden and medicinal herbs.


Choosing a Location


When choosing where to put your vegetable garden, consider the following factors to ensure your plants thrive:



woman smiling while squatting down and looking at her garden

Sunlight - Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Choose a spot that receives sunlight for most of the day, avoiding shadows from buildings, trees, and shrubs. The morning sun is especially important.


Soil - Vegetables grow best in fertile, well-drained soil. Avoid planting in low areas where water collects. Test the soil pH and add amendments like compost or fertilizer if needed. Loamy soil with lots of organic matter is ideal.


Drainage - Standing water can rot plant roots, so ensure the soil drains well. Amend clay soils with compost or peat moss. For drainage issues, build raised beds or plant in mounds.


Accessibility - Pick a spot near a water source and close to your house for easy care and harvesting. Keep it accessible with defined paths between beds.


Level Ground - Ensure the area is flat or gently sloping. Steep hills cause erosion and make working difficult. Terrace the space if needed.


Air Flow - Allow good airflow to deter fungal diseases. Don't crowd plants and avoid enclosing the garden tightly with fences or trees.


Size - Make your garden a suitable size you can manage. Start small if you're a beginner. It's better to start small and expand later.


Choose your vegetable garden location wisely and your efforts will be rewarded with healthy, thriving plants. With the right conditions in place from the start, you'll set your garden up for success.


Design and Layout


When designing your garden, think about how to maximize your available space and what layout will work best for the plants you want to grow. Here are some common garden designs to consider:



rows of plants in garden boxes with walking paths between the boxes

Row Gardens


A row garden consists of long, straight rows with walking space in between. This is a classic and efficient way to arrange a vegetable garden. Rows can be spaced 1-3 feet apart depending on the spread of the plants. Leafy greens and root crops that don't take up much space are good choices for row gardens.


Raised Beds


Raised beds are bottomless boxes filled with soil that sit atop your garden's native soil. They are typically 4 feet wide to allow easy access from both sides. Raised beds prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage, and enable you to control the soil quality. They are ideal for gardens with poor native soil.


Square Foot Gardening


Square foot gardening divides garden space into 1 foot x 1 foot sections. You plant a certain number of plants per square depending on the plant's size. This intensive gardening method maximizes yield in small spaces. Use square-foot gardening for herbs, greens, and other compact crops.


Companion Planting


Companion planting involves strategically placing plants together that benefit each other. For example, planting basil next to tomatoes boosts the tomato's growth and flavor. Consider companion planting combinations when designing your layout. The Farmers' Almanac has an excellent article detailing companion planting here.


Vertical Gardening


Use vertical space by training vining crops like beans, cucumbers, and peas on trellises and fences. Hang gutters or build stacked planter boxes on a sunny wall for leafy greens and herbs. Vertical gardening expands your garden's usable area. Homes & Gardens gives some great ideas on vertical gardening strategies here.


Succession Planting


Maximize garden space by following one crop with another. For example, plant radishes in early spring, then follow with beans or squash in the same spot later on. Use fast-growing crops for succession planting.


Choosing a layout tailored to your available space and desired crops is key to maximizing your garden's productivity. Consider sunlight availability, irrigation access, and crop compatibility when planning the design. If you want more ideas on succession planting and what types of plants to use, check out Epic Gardening here.


Soil Preparation


Proper soil preparation is one of the most important steps in establishing a successful garden. The soil provides essential nutrients for plants to grow and thrive. Before planting, it's important to test your soil composition and make any necessary amendments.


The first step is to test your soil pH, which measures acidity and alkalinity on a scale from 1-14. Most vegetables and herbs prefer a neutral pH between 6-7. You can purchase an inexpensive soil test kit and follow the instructions to determine your soil pH. If the pH is too high or low, you can add amendments like elemental sulfur to lower the pH or limestone to raise the pH.



a trowel with some ponting soil in it and a small pot with soil as well as soil on the surface next to the

It's also helpful to test macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. While not absolutely necessary for a home garden, testing gives you a baseline to understand if any nutrients are deficient. Based on the test results, you may need to add fertilizers or compost to enrich the soil. Well-rotted manure and compost are great organic fertilizer options. For fast-acting synthetic fertilizers, choices like blood meal and bone meal add nitrogen while rock phosphate contains phosphorus.


In addition to nutrients, the soil structure and texture affect planting. Clay soils may need added organic matter like compost or peat moss to improve drainage. Sandy soils will benefit from compost to help retain moisture and nutrients. Thoroughly mix any amendments into the top 6-12 inches of soil before planting. Addressing soil needs in advance will set up your garden for healthier plants and better yields.


Choosing Crops


When starting a garden for the first time, it's best to begin with easy-to-grow herbs and vegetables that are suitable for your climate and space. Some of the best options for beginner gardeners include:



herbs tied with string in bunches while hanging from a line and labeled by their proper names


- Basil - A versatile Italian herb that thrives in warm weather. Grows well in containers or garden beds. Requires full sun.


- Chives - An easy perennial herb to grow. Tolerates partial shade. Grow in containers or in the garden.


- Thyme - A Mediterranean herb with antibacterial properties. Drought tolerant once established. Does well in hot climates.


- Mint - Highly prolific, spreads aggressively. Grow in containers to control. Likes shade and moist soil.


- Oregano - A flavorful herb that grows as an annual in some zones. Likes hot and dry conditions.


- Rosemary - A woody, shrubby herb. It can grow quite large in ideal conditions. Likes dry soil and full sun.

- Lettuce - A quick-growing cool weather crop. Grow looseleaf varieties that bolt slower in summer.


- Spinach - Another cool weather leafy green. Some varieties tolerate heat better than others.


- Radishes - One of the easiest and quickest vegetables to grow. Great for kids.


- Green beans - A warm-season crop that produces heavily. Pole or bush varieties are available.


- Carrots - A root crop that prefers loose, rock-free soil. Thin seedlings for straight roots.


- Tomatoes - A summer essential. Determinate varieties that grow well in containers. Need full sun.


- Peppers - Prefer warm weather and take longer to mature than tomatoes. Many varieties.


- Zucchini - A prolific summer squash. Plant just a few as they spread. Pick often.


When planning your garden, also consider companion planting to maximize the space. Some beneficial combinations include:


- Basil planted with tomatoes

- Dill near cabbage and broccoli

- Marigolds with tomatoes and squash

- Radishes around cucumbers

- Carrots and rosemary

- Oregano and cabbage


Choose crops suited for your local growing conditions and available space. Start with just a few easy-to-grow varieties, then add more as your skills progress.


Starting Seeds and Transplants


One of the keys to a successful garden is getting plants off to a good start by properly starting seeds and caring for transplants. You have two main options for starting plants - starting seeds indoors or direct sowing outdoors.



potted plants being tended by someone who is covering the soil around one of the plants

Starting Indoors


Starting seeds indoors allows you to get a head start on the growing season. It's recommended for plants that take a long time to mature like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. You can begin seeds indoors 4-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Choose a sunny spot and make sure the starting medium stays evenly moist. Use a seed starting mix or coir pellets rather than regular potting soil to avoid disease. Cover seeds lightly with mix and provide heat either from seedling heat mats or the top of your refrigerator. Once sprouted, ensure proper lighting with grow lights or a sunny windowsill. Thin seedlings after sprouting and transplant them into larger containers like cell packs.


Hardening Off


Hardening off is the process of gradually acclimating indoor seedlings to outdoor conditions before transplanting. About 1-2 weeks before transplanting, set seedlings outdoors in partial shade for a few hours. Slowly increase the time outside over a week or two, bringing them indoors if frost is expected. Transplant on a mild, cloudy day into pre-moistened soil. Hardening off prevents shock and reduces transplant stress.


Direct Sowing


Some plants do better with direct sowing right into the garden soil. This includes root crops like carrots and radishes, heavy feeders like corn and squash, and plants that dislike transplanting such as peas and beans. Direct sowing is lower maintenance and avoids damage to root systems. Follow seed packet instructions for planting depth and thinning. Choose quick maturing varieties if sowing late in the season. Mark the rows with plant names and dates.


Proper starting techniques help grow robust transplants ready for the garden. Hardening off and timely transplanting prevents shock. Direct sow certain crops for best results. Follow these seed-starting tips and you'll get your plants off to a vigorous start.


Planting the Garden


One of the most exciting parts of starting a garden is when it's finally time to get your seeds and seedlings in the ground. You'll want to plan your garden so you have a mix of crops that will be directly sown into the garden bed as well as those that need to be started indoors and transplanted outside.



woman planting herbs in a garden with another gardener walking behind her

Transplanting vs. Direct Sowing


Many vegetables, herbs, and flowers do best when started indoors and then transplanted outside after the danger of frost is past. This gives them a head start on the growing season. Good choices for transplants include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, and basil. Make sure to "harden off" transplants by setting them outside in partial sun for a few hours each day about a week before transplanting.


Other crops like peas, beans, carrots, lettuce, and radishes should be directly sown right into the garden bed. This is because they don't transplant well due to their taproots. Direct sowing is also less work than starting seeds indoors. Just follow the seed packet instructions for planting depth and spacing.


Proper Planting Techniques


No matter if you're working with transplants or sowing seed, use proper planting techniques to give your plants the best start:


- Dig holes for transplants that are slightly larger than the root ball. Carefully place each plant into its hole and fill it in with surrounding soil, making sure the top of the root ball is level with the ground.


- Water transplants thoroughly after planting to remove any air pockets. Create a depression around each plant to hold water.


- When sowing seeds directly, plant at the recommended depth according to the seed packet. In general, plant 2-3 times as deep as the width of the seed.

- Space both transplants and seeded crops according to recommendations to avoid overcrowding as plants mature.


- Label plantings with plant name and variety so you remember what you planted where.


- Consider season-extending techniques like cold frames, cloches, and row covers to get a head start on the growing season.


Following these basic planting techniques will set your garden up for success!


Caring and Maintenance For Vegetables and Medicinal Herbs at Home


Once your garden is planted, don't neglect it! Proper care and maintenance are essential for a productive garden. Here are some tips:


Watering


- Water your garden about 1 inch per week, adjusting for rainfall. Make sure to water the roots and not the leaves. Water in the morning to reduce fungus and disease. Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses for efficient watering.


- Check soil moisture by digging down a few inches. Don't wait until plants are drooping to water.


- Water deeply and infrequently to encourage deep root growth. Avoid frequent light watering.


Weeding


- Weed early and often. Weeds compete with plants for water, nutrients, and light.


- Hoe or pull weeds when they are small for easy removal. Add mulch to suppress weeds.


- Identify whether a plant is a weed or crop before removing it. Some seedlings look alike at first.


- Weed after watering when the soil is moist and roots pull out easily. Discard weed roots so they don't reroot.


Mulching


- Mulch garden beds with 2-4 inches of organic material like wood chips, leaves, straw, or grass clippings. This conserves moisture, suppresses weeds, and feeds the soil.


- Replenish mulch throughout the season as it decomposes. Make sure it doesn't touch plant stems.


- For vines like squash, melons, and cucumbers, wait until plants are established before mulching to avoid rot.


Pests and Disease


- Identify the pest before treating it. Hand-pick larger pests or use organic sprays. Attract beneficial insects.


- For fungal issues, improve air circulation and avoid wetting foliage. Use organic fungicides if needed.


- Rotate crops each season to disrupt pest cycles. Remove diseased plants to prevent spreading.


- Check for signs of disease like spots on leaves, wilting plants, or slowed growth. Isolate and treat affected plants.


- Keep garden debris cleaned up and weed-free to deny pests habitat. Healthy plants can better withstand pests.


Harvesting


Knowing when to harvest your crops is one of the most important parts of having a successful garden. Different plants mature at different times, so it's essential to know when your specific fruits, vegetables, and herbs will be at their peak ripeness for plucking.



woman and child holding up carrots they harvested and both are smiling


As a general rule, harvest vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and herbs as soon as they are big enough to eat. Harvest fruiting crops like tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas, and corn when the fruit is fully sized but still firm. Root crops like potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets can be harvested when the tops begin to die back and the roots have reached a usable size.


When harvesting, use clean, sharp tools to cut vegetables and herbs off at the base of the plant. Pull fruits gently to remove them from the vine. Try to avoid damaging the plant by tugging or pulling too hard. For root crops, use a garden fork to gently loosen the soil before pulling them up.


Handle the harvested crops gently to avoid bruising. Put vegetables and fruits into clean containers and get them out of the sun immediately. Wash and dry produce right after picking. Store in a cool area or preserve as soon as possible.


Keep a close eye on your garden as crops near maturity. Harvest regularly, don't let fruits and vegetables over-ripen on the vines. With careful attention to timing and gentle handling, you'll be rewarded with a bountiful harvest.


Preserving the Harvest


One of the best parts about growing your own food is being able to preserve the harvest to enjoy throughout the year. Here are some tips for preserving your garden vegetables, fruits, and herbs:


Canning


Canning is a great way to preserve high-acid foods like tomatoes, jams, fruits, and pickled vegetables. The canning process involves placing prepared foods in sterilized jars and heating them to a temperature that destroys microorganisms and inactivates enzymes. This prevents spoilage so canned goods can be stored for up to a year. When canning, follow tested recipes and proper procedures carefully.


Freezing


Freezing is an easy way to preserve many fruits and vegetables. Blanch vegetables before freezing to stop enzyme actions that can cause loss of flavor and texture. Let items cool completely before packing and freezing. Use freezer bags, containers, or freezer paper to protect foods. Label packages with contents and dates before freezing. Maintain a constant 0°F temperature for best quality.


Drying Herbs


collage of different types of herbs laid out

One of the easiest ways to preserve fresh herbs is by air drying. Simply tie washed herbs in small bunches and hang them to dry in a warm, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. You can also dry herbs quickly in the microwave or oven on low heat. Dried herbs retain their flavor and can be stored in airtight containers for months.


Storing Produce


Some fresh vegetables and fruits like onions, potatoes, apples, and winter squash can be stored for weeks or months in a cool, dry, dark place. Keep produce in vented containers and check regularly for spoilage. Maintaining the right storage conditions is key to maximizing shelf life.


Preserving the bounty from your garden allows you to enjoy the flavors of summer all year round. Follow proper procedures for canning, freezing, and drying to safely save your harvest.


Start Your Natural Healing Journey with a Medicinal Herb Kit



package of medicinal garden herbs seeds and a herbal medicinal guide booklet on some grass

Embark on a journey of natural healing with this Medicinal Herb Kit. Cultivate your very own medicinal herbs at home and experience the satisfaction of nurturing and growing a vibrant assortment of plants right in your backyard. The premium quality seeds of 10 carefully selected herbs provide the perfect starting point for your herbal medicine journey. Take charge of your wellbeing and explore the incredible potential of nature's medicine with the Medicinal Herb Kit. Discover more about it here.


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