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Alternative Medicines - Part 4- Growing Herbs: Preparing Soil, Planting and Enjoying!

Updated on January 14, 2017

"Dirt" you Want to Have

The feel of soil in one's hands is wonderful.
The feel of soil in one's hands is wonderful. | Source
Typical composter
Typical composter | Source

Herbal Gardens can be as Simple or Extravagant as You Want

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Herb Garden Wisely Utilizing Pots.

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Gardening Tools

These are examples of the many tools. Do not forget gloves! A canvas tool bag makes transport and organization easier. they do not have to match your shoes!
These are examples of the many tools. Do not forget gloves! A canvas tool bag makes transport and organization easier. they do not have to match your shoes!

If Possible, Learn and Utilize Composting

As you can see, composting consists of the many things we just throw away to become something valuable.
As you can see, composting consists of the many things we just throw away to become something valuable. | Source
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Few Examples of Medicinal and Beautiful Herbs

I have taken Echinacea for the immune system but grown it for it's long lasting and vibrant beauty
I have taken Echinacea for the immune system but grown it for it's long lasting and vibrant beauty
Chives better known for their culinary wonders still have some medicinal properties
Chives better known for their culinary wonders still have some medicinal properties
Chamomile is very easy to grow and has long lasting daisy-type flowers that add beauty to the garden
Chamomile is very easy to grow and has long lasting daisy-type flowers that add beauty to the garden | Source

Growing Herb Gardens

Now that you have read one of mine or someone else's articles on the benefits of medicinal herbs, your "appetite" has been wetted to try your hand at growing some. I will gravitate towards the growing of herbs used more for medicinal purposes and/or their outstanding ability to add great beauty to your garden, flowerbeds or window sills.

Undoubtedly the most common reason to grow herbs are for their culinary effects. I will touch on those if they also have medicinal properties but I will never state that one tastes particularly good- or bad- as taste is so very subjective... as it should be. I always think of my mother's love of limburger cheese and my putting on a clothes line pin when I would make her a sandwich and still be wearing it when I served it to her. Yes, I am a bit dramatic!

I will mainly focus on the prepping of soil and the cultivating of herbs in general. Most herbs do equally well in good porous soil. Yes, herbs have a reputation as growing in just about anything. That is partially true but the "richer" and more porous the soil, the better developed the herb. Like many things in my busy life, I like to keep things as simple as possible. I also like to use a little trial and error... the scientist in me. The only way I can work ballet into this is that two of my closest friends when I was in pharmacy school and ballet school, grew herbs in their kitchen and balcony gardens and we had great fun making meals together and coming up with some outstanding (almost always) meals. For me the camaraderie in the prepping while talking about ballet and so many things was just as delicious as the finished product.

Growing herbs is lots of fun but it does take some planning and a little research which is why you are reading this. Generally, herbal gardens should be in places that command the attention of unshaded sun from roughly 10 AM to 4PM. Soil that is rather fertile, loose, well drained and containing lots of decayed vegetable matter ( your wonderful composting results) . Good air circulation around the plant helps cut down on disease and of course access to water is important- make sure your garden hose is long enough! I stress porous soil as experts recommend 50% of the soil should be available for air and water. Gardening is meant to be fun so unless you are OCD, do not make exact percentages your guide. Allow your experience, research and common sense be your guides. A good rule of thumb is that if the soil is compact or has a clay consistency, then stay away from it. Look at my example of compost and then mix that in your non-clay soil. Do that and you already have much of what you need. Another good addition to your soil, especially if compost is not available is peat moss. To this add various available manures. It's all good and your choice to make.

Now it is time for a little exercise. If you work out in the home or go to the gym, think of this as a temporary replacement or addition to your exercise routine. A tiller is not recommended as the top layer will contain many weeds and non-desirable growths so it is wise to take off the first few inches to remove all unwelcomed future growths along with their nutrient hogging roots. Discard it - not in the compactor as then you will be returning the weeds at a future date. If the soil that is attached to the sod seems good, I will gently shake it off to utilize it in the final soil mix. Some gardeners will put this sod low in the resulting dug out area. This is OK if the roots and seeds decay. This does not always happen so I discard. The choice is yours. Now you should dig down another 6-8 inches and put it on a canvas or plastic sheet. There are many ways to mix your final soil. As I said, I like it simple. After removing all rocks from the soil I just removed, I add my compost, manure and peat moss in about a 50/50 amount to the original soil. This of course will give you a resultant raised bed which is what you want. I think it is also important not to start with too large a bed especially if you are working alone as I prefer to do. It is psychologically better and physically easier to start with a bed about 4 x 6 feet. If time allows, you can make another later or add to the one you just made. Next year it will be easier to enlarge as the basic bed is ready and just needs cultivated and new compost and manure added. I like to put natural stone borders around my beds. I will go to streams and cart stones back as water eroded stones make for beautiful borders. Of course do what pleases you. Nothing you do is in cement and can always be changed. When I am finished planting, I like to use my artistic side and add unusual statuary or something to act as a focal point and then have the plants cascade away from it in decreasing height. The added artwork draws one's attention and then the eye naturally takes in the rest of the garden. The same technique is used in paintings so why not a garden. Ask Monet! No colored chrome garden balls or pink flamingos for me. I also like to combine some ceramic pots containing herbs or flowers among my plants, especially if it is one I created.

I personally do not like a flower bed that is trying to imitate a garden from Versailles- I prefer a more English or eclectic/natural look. However, common sense must prevail. On borders, you wants herbs that remain fairly low and medium plants at the next level and the highest in the middle or back. If one is planting against a house or a fence, then the highest should be in the back. It is visually appealing and keeps the lower plants from being kept from the sun.. Also, many herbs are outstanding self-propagators and each year will come back with many 'relatives'. As nice as the additions may be, they eventually choke out other herbs and must be removed to promote healthy growth.

Keeping the soil properly fertilized becomes second nature after a while. As with most plants, herbs require 3 basic chemicals: phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium. Packaged fertilizers not only have the 3 basic nutrients in various %'s such as 5-10-5, they usually have small amounts of micronutrients: boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc. Being born and raised on a farm, my father would sometimes take soil samples to a local Dept. of Agriculture office/lab and have them test it to see what needed to be added. Kits can be bought as well as private companies retained. I still prefer the Dept. of Agriculture as it is often free and just as accurate. However, I have not had a need to utilize them for a while so the free aspect I am assuming is still featured. Natural manures are also an excellent source for nutrients, especially nitrogen. As a general rule, the smaller the animal, the better the/richer the manure. Chicken is considered by many sources the best. I can vouch for this as I was raised on a farm with 6,000 chickens and many ducks, geese and turkeys. Of course manure content and value will depend on what and how the animal were fed. Composted material is also an excellent source. Wood ash from untreated wood is a great source of potassium and bone meal is an excellent source of phosphorus.

I use a combination of all of them and adjust and change every year to experiment. My mother was a HUGE believer and user of "Miracle Gro". I picked that up also. Miracle Gro is great for a quick fix and spurt of growth but there still has to be a foundationally good, rich and loamy soil to sustain the increased growth. I add manure and compost from my composter several times a growing season.

It is tempting early in one's gardening 'career' to be in the frame of mind that "more is better". By adding too much too fast too soon, then one had to worry about making the soil too acidic or basic then have to take additional counter measures to correct this. This can be avoided by using one of the most important tools in gardening: common sense. Overdosing is more difficult with manure and compost but much easier with artificial fertilizers because of their concentrated %'s. If one needs to test for the acidity or basicity, kits can be bought at a Lowe's, Home Depot or one of many independent green houses.

This article is meant only to be a general guide. As I had great teachers in my parents and a natural inclination to experiment, I found what works best for me. As your passion and confidence grows, you also will find what works best for you. Even if you plant for the visual effect, the plants will need to be pruned and cut back which will stimulate healthier and fuller growth. By making one's own soil one is also recycling which is important to the world in general. Once you start, you will find it simple and easy to do and start creating your own wonderful soil formulas. As I said in my articles with throwing on the wheel: HAVE FUN. Experiment, transplant and read! Gardening when done correctly is meant to reduce stress, not add to it. Remember, unless you have learned how to garden in cement, a garden can be changed and corrected during the growing season and of course at the beginning of each growing season. As with artists, I have found the owners and workers at green houses a wonderful source of beneficial information. Lastly, I personally have found that the psychological benefits of gardening are outstanding. If it were not for my gardening, along with running and writing, the current stresses I am experiencing would probably have me in an institution and popping a handful of tranquilizers and anti-depressants every day! Happy Gardening!


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    • Peter Grujic profile image
      Author

      Peter Alexander 20 months ago from Pittsburgh

      Absolutely! I often recommend Aloe Vera and/or pure vitamin E to people to apply to cuts or new surgical scars. It is nice to have an Aloe Vera plant around like a first aid kit for treatment to burns and cuts. ( Plus they look so nice!)Thanks for your comment and insight.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

      i like aloe vera, useful and easy to grow

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