How To Grow A Container Herb Garden In A Jar

Garden jar provides you with culinary herbs at your fingertips and on your doorstep all summer, and often longer.

You don't need a yard or garden""plant your summer herb garden in a strawberry jar and plop it on a patio, balcony, stoop-""wherever there's plenty of sun. A strawberry jar, for the unitiated, is a tall terra-cotta pot, shaped like an urn, and it usually has about seven lipped openings spaced around the body. The jars come in varying sizes from about eighteen inches to over three feet in height.

Choose whatever size you want, but I can assure you a small jar will serve its purpose. Also purchase nine-ten herb plants. Select the herbs you are most likely to use in your day-to-day cooking unless you want the jar to be purely ornamental, in which case, choose whichever herbs strike your fancy. My recommendations for culinary herbs are:

· rosemary""-ask for a low growing variety

· chives

· parsley""-either flat or curly leafed

· thyme""-you may want more than one variety

· sage""-choose a small leaf variety

· oregano

· marjoram

· savory-""winter, summer or both

· basil--the type that grows six inches or less in height

· tarragon-""choose a low growing kind

You may have other favorites. Many people like dill but it tends to grow very tall and leggy and has a short growing season so I put mine in a separate pot. I would also avoid the mint family as it becomes very invasive.

You'll need a piece of PVC (plastic pipe) one inch shorter than the height of your jar. The pipe should be drilled (with a half-inch bit) all up and down its sides; the more holes, the better. If you don't have a drill, you can make holes by pounding a very large nail into the pipe and repeating the process until the PVC is well holed. At one end of the PVC, layer about 6 pieces of aluminum foil to "cap" it. Secure the foil cap to the pipe with strong tape (thin pieces of duct tape are ideal). Place the pipe, upright, in the center of the jar, capped end down.

Fill the jar loosely with a good quality fresh potting soil with vermiculite. Do not pack the soil. Gently remove the plants from their containers and push them, roots first, into the seven side apertures. This is a hands-on operation""prepare to scoop a hole for the plant with your fingertips and then push some extra soil in around it. You want the plants that vine in the apertures; avoid rosemary and chives, which tend to grow straight up.

Plant the top of the jar with the straight-growing plants. Place a pan (an old pie plate is ideal) or a terra cotta saucer under the jar. Water it well by pouring water into the pipe and also directly onto the soil. As the water dissipates, add more until the pan or saucer fills. For the first few days, water the pot frequently. A good plant food will also help the herbs overcome "transplant shock." After a week or frequent watering, add water when the soil is dry to the touch. During times of heavy rains, don't let the pot stand in water overmuch.

Within a month your herbs will thrive and welcome frequent picking. If you want the jar for ornamental use only, cut the herbs periodically""give them to friends or neighbors who cook. In the fall, as the weather cools, the herbs may be cut and dried. Drying herbs is simple. Cut, rinse, shake dry and tie in bunches. Hang them in a dry spot, preferably away from bright light. When very dry, shuck the leaves and store in plastic bags or clear jars. Label everything.

In moderate climates, many of the herbs may winter over in the jar. In less temperate zones, you might try placing the jar indoors in an area that is cool and light.

My herb garden sits on my back stoop, a pleasure to see as we come and go, and in easy reach for the snips of herbs we use to flavor our food.

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