Herb Gardening in Small Spaces

Last week we heard about our friend Jill’s experience with gardening throughout her life. She shared some wonderful tips for planning a garden and using the information on seed packets to help you make decisions. I would like to share a slightly different perspective. I live in a small house and I do not have land to till up and plant a garden. I still love to grow some food though, so I do container gardening.

Container gardening is a very simple approach to gardening that allows you to use a patio or porch to grow food in pots or other containers. It is helpful when you do not have land to till up or when you just want to grow a few plants and not a whole garden.

Herbs are my favorite food to grow in the summer in Iowa. They thrive in the sun and warm weather. They are easy to maintain. I just water them whenever their soil becomes dry to the touch. Herbs will even grow inside if you have a very sunny window for them. It is so wonderful to be able to snip a few sprigs to add flavor to my cooking. Herbs are rather expensive at the grocery store and they spoil quickly, so being able to cut them from the back patio is a real treat.

  • Parsley is delightful in salads and as a final topper for things like roasted veggies or fish.
  • Basil tastes delicious with tomatoes and pasta. I also love sliced basil stirred into cottage cheese.
  • Rosemary, sage and thyme are tasty additions to roasted veggies. Toss them with the veggies before cooking and enjoy.

If you have a sunny spot and a sturdy container of soil, you’re ready to get started! For a bit more information, check out Growing Herbs in Containers from our friends in Iowa State University’s Horticulture department. Next week Jody will share about her experience growing vegetables in containers at her house.

Happy Gardening!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Growing Herbs

Flat parsley growing in rows in the garden bed

In the spirit of gardening, today I am going to continue our series and talk about growing herbs. Growing herbs at home can save you money because buying fresh and dried herbs at the store can add up quickly. Growing herbs is something that started as a fluke for me and has turned into a passion.

I bought a sad looking oregano plant at a sale the first year we were in our home. I planted it just outside the kitchen window in a dry, empty patch of dirt where nothing grew. Now, ten years later, that oregano plant is still alive and thriving. Over the years we have added and removed herbs from my little herb garden. This year we will have oregano and chives (which come back every year) and basil, dill, and parsley (which my son and his grandpa started from seeds).

A little herb garden is so much fun for children. I love to watch my children plant and care for the herbs, smell them, taste them, and add them to recipes. If you do not have space for an herb garden, consider planting an herb container. Place it near your kitchen so you have easy access when you need to add flavor to a recipe.

A great thing about herbs is that they are low maintenance. Plant them, or place containers, in a sunny spot because herbs love sun. Make sure your soil, or your container, drains water well because herbs do not like to sit in wet soil. Water them when the soil is dry to the touch.

Best of luck with your herb garden!

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Growing and Using Fresh Herbs

basils2I have had good luck growing culinary herbs in pots on my sunny deck. I have also grown them in the garden in well-drained soil. I enjoy being able to experiment with fresh herbs in my cooking. Plus, you can buy herb plants for about the same price as you buy one bunch at the store.

Below are some brief tips on growing and using herbs. If you want more information, check out From Garden to Table: Harvesting Herbs for Healthy Eating by North Dakota State University


Common Name

Growing Suggestions & Tips Ideas for Using in Cooking
Basil Likes sunny but sheltered spots. Space 8-12” apart. Grows well in containers. Good border plant. Dark green leaves have sweet flavor with mild pungency. Tomatoes; in fresh pesto; pasta sauce, peas, zucchini
Mint (including spearmint and peppermint) Has tendency to spread invasively in outdoor gardens. Purple flowers. Refreshing odor & flavor. Often used as a garnish. Roots easily from stem cuttings. Used with carrots, fruit salads, parsley, peas, desserts, spring rolls. salads, sauces
Oregano Grows well in containers. Can also propagate from cuttings or division of the mature plant. tomato dishes, beef, spaghetti, clams, soups (bean, minestrone, and tomato), beans, eggplant, and mushrooms
Parsley Grows well in a container. Keep trimmed so plant does not develop flowers. salads, vegetables, pastas
Rosemary Grows well in a container. chicken, fish, lamb, pork, roasted potatoes, soups, stews, tomatoes

parsleyHerbs should be purchased or picked close to the time you plan to use them. If you grow herbs in your own garden, the best time to harvest herbs is in the morning after the dew is off but the sprigs are fresh. This helps ensure the best flavor and storage quality.

Fresh herbs can be stored in an open or perforated plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper drawer for a few days. If you have more herbs than you can eat, put them in bouquets either alone or as part of a flower bouquet. Fresh herbs can also be dried and frozen.

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