How to Start a Kitchen Herb Garden
Growing food in small spaces
If you don’t have space for a full garden or are new to gardening, a kitchen herb garden is a great place to start. You can grow multiple herbs in one larger pot, making this the ideal scenario for apartments and other small living spaces, or areas without outdoor space to plant in. A one-pot kitchen herb garden can be placed inside or outside. Bringing the plants inside during colder months of the year can extend their life and have help you have fresh herbs from your garden throughout the seasons.
The first step is gathering the materials you’ll need to grow your plants from seed using the lasagna gardening method. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of lasagna gardening before - I’ll walk you through the basics.
Cardboard (remove tape and sticker labels)
Newspaper or brown paper from brown paper grocery bags or packages (no plastic lining, remove tape and sticker labels)
Seeds (alternatively, starter plants or propagated stems)
A note on newspaper ink: Most newspaper ink in the United States is made using soy and will biodegrade. If you’re concerned about it, though, you can make sure you’re using cardboard or paper without any ink on it.
Pick Your Herbs
What types of cuisine do you make and want to have fresh herbs for? It can be multiple! You might also want to think about herbs for teas, pollinator purposes, and edible flowers.
What herbs you grow might depend on what herbs you’re able to get access to. Here are a few places you can find seeds:
Local seed library
Garden centers and nurseries, local landscape businesses might have a garden center
Home improvement store garden centers
Grocery stores- whole foods, etc.
You can use SNAP dollars to purchase seeds and other gardening equipment to grow food for yourself
I visited my local seed library to pick up herb seeds, and got two to three seeds for each plant I want to grow. Because some of the seeds were older, and germination rates tend to go down each year, for some varieties I took three to four seeds for each plant I want to grow. I’ll be transplanting any plants that germinate and are too crowded to other pots once they’ve developed their true leaves.
Here are the herbs I’m going to try to grow from seed:
Mullein: Helps with coughs, chest congestion - can be smoked or used as a tea
Borage: Can use as a tea, has been said to help with lactation. The small blue flowers are also edible and can be used as decoration
Epazote: deters intestinal gas, add to bean dishes, traditionally a Mexican plant used in soups, quesadillas, and moles. The seeds I picked up were from Oakland, CA, grown in 2022.
Italian Genovese basil
Sourcing Potting Soil or Compost
Sometimes compost is available for free via your local government. Your municipality may have a special program, or there may be a compost pick up located at a town’s transfer station if yard waste collection is a service that is provided to residents.
You can also maintain a kitchen compost pile, which can help reduce the amount of waste you send to landfill and give you a rich nutrient supplement to add to your garden soils.
Pick your Vessel
A container with drainage holes in the bottom is ideal. If the vessel doesn’t have any way to drain, be sure not to overwater the plant.
The Method: Lasagna Layering with Cardboard, Brown Paper, and Potting Soil
Cover the bottom of your pot with a layer of potting soil. Then add a layer of ripped up cardboard, followed by brown paper, and water the cardboard, paper, and soil. Repeat this process until there is a final layer of potting soil approximately 2 inches thick at the top of your pot.
Why and how this works: As the plant grows, is watered, and its roots work to use the available nutrients, the organic material in the cardboard and paper will break down over time in the pot. This technique is called lasagna gardening (or sheet mulching), and can help you use less soil to fill up space in your pot. When your herb seed first germinate, they’ll be fairly shallow and can root in the top layer of soil. As they grow, they’ll grow downward.
Watering each layer as you add soil and more layers of paper and cardboard helps encourage the material to start breaking down, which will happen over time as the plants’ roots grow and are watered.
You can prep lasagna gardens in advance by layering in the fall and watering over the winter so that the materials are broken down by the time the weather is warm enough to plant in the spring. Another option is to plant directly into the lasagna layers using a top layer of soil.
As the material decomposes over time, the soil will settle, and you may wish to top off with compost or potting soil, which will help bring new nutrients to the soil to nourish the herbs.
Plan to Expand
I’m expecting that I’ll have to transplant some of these plants, depending on what germinates. Right now, I’m using this as a starter pot and will keep some of the plants in here - ideally a small collection of the most common herbs I use so that they’re easily accessible when I’m cooking.
When plants are nearing the end of their life and need to be replaced, take a cutting from your healthiest plants and pinch the flowers off of any herbs so that the plant isn’t sending energy to develop the seeds but can instead focus on growing new roots. Put the plant in a container with water and a pinch of dissolved sugar and let it sit in sunny indirect light for two to three weeks. Wait until the plant has developed robust roots before transplanting and make sure the new roots remain covered with water. You can also do this to propagate herbs bought at the farmers market or grocery store if they are sold as full stems with leaves attached.
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