Holiday visitors have left, the decorations are back in storage, and hours of cooking and baking are over. Time to kick back and take a break from gardening for a few months. Stop right there; I think not. A good gardener never rests, especially an herbal gardener.
Now’s the time to take stock. I have often said you should visit your garden every day. Take notice of what is going on. Have some herbs withered and died? Are others healthy, dark green, and flowering?
It’s important to know how your garden looks with each seasonal change. The cooler weather is a great time to make improvements to your herb garden. It’s a time to plan, design, and garden in the fresh air, without your skin shriveling in the blazing sun.
Start with the soil. Squeeze a good amount of soil in your hand, making a fist. What happens when you open your hand? Does it fall apart? If it does, you have sandy soil. Does it stick together, can you see the impressions of your fingers? Then it is clay soil. Does it form a ball which falls apart in chunks? That’s loam.
Achieving healthy soil can take years. This is why it is so important to know your soil structure and make improvements every year. You will want to work in organic matter in the form of eggshells, pine needles, some grass clippings, even some straw. But be careful not to make your soil too rich. You still want to somewhat achieve the mediterranean-like environment herbs love. You can work small amounts of the organic matter directly into the garden and let them decompose there. You also may want to start a compost pile outside your garden.
Next, consider worm castings. I can’t say enough about this type of amendment. Worm castings do not burn plants. Castings are gentle and will improve the overall structure of your soil. But it has been said some herbs, like borage, hyssop, and thyme will become less flavorful if you add too much casting. Herbs like mint, calendula, lovage, and parsley love the nutrients. I have raised-herb beds and spread whole bags of castings each winter and have never experienced a loss of flavor with my herbs.
Many herb gardeners add manure from various animals, except from dogs and cats. I don’t. I worry about what is in the manure. What did the animal eat, and is it broken down completely? Herbicides and undigested seeds can be harmful. And, again, manure can over-enrich the soil. Be sure to go completely organic on this one.
Leaf mold should be used instead of peat moss. Peat moss will acidify the soil too much. Most herbs, not all, prefer alkaline soil. I shred my leaves with my mower, work them into the soil, and walk away. Nature does the rest.
While you are making resolutions, think about your herb garden.
Which herb was your outstanding performer? Grow that one again. Which new herb would you like to grow? Plant it. Don’t worry about herbs that did not grow well for you. Don’t be afraid to grow new varieties, just because someone says it won’t grow. It’s all a learning experience that will increase your knowledge of the wonderful world of herbs.
Now, on the subject of resolutions, my number one resolution will be to get more sleep. I have been reading several articles about how sleep deprived we all are in this country. Sleep is so important to our overall health. We all push ourselves, sometimes, beyond our limits. Adding a little herbal plant power to your evening rituals will aid in a good night’s sleep. Whenever I think sleep; I think Lavender.
If you have a diffuser, add some essential lavender oil to it, and relax with a good book on herbs.
Float a lavender sachet in a warm bath, enjoy some lavender or chamomile tea, and then slip into bed with sheets that have been dried using lavender- dryer sachets.
A small lavender sachet tucked under your pillow for extra measure, and before you know it, you will be off to dreamland. Men love lavender too, although they won’t admit it!