bowl of basil leaves illustrating an article about growing herbs from seed

If you’re reading these articles in order, it’s Lynda back again.

If this is the first one you’ve looked at, I’d like to begin by saying that for over a decade I have been fascinated with the wonderful world of herbs.

Research and practical experience have taught me about their history, growing and harvesting, together with their uses in cookery, medicine, beauty and around the home.

The Beginner's Guide to Getting Started

It’s worth mentioning here that some seeds don’t grow true to type from seed, are slow to grow, or simply need a lot of attention which may not be suitable for someone who is just beginning to explore this wonderful new world.

This includes rosemary, lavender, mint, and lemon verbena. However, for the more adventurous herb enthusiast, there are a variety of methods you can utilise to grow these plants.

Best Herbs to Grow From Seed

I would suggest that you begin with basil, parsley, chives, lemon balm and coriander. This makes for quite a nice collection in size, shape, and use and is where I began. For more information on the best herbs to grow, click here.

I’ve explained all about the tools you will need in this article, but you can just use your hands, an empty container, and some compost.

Costing only a few pounds for possibly hundreds of seeds, if you are using those bought from a garden centre or a reputable supplier on the Internet, you will usually be given detailed instructions for sowing. I would recommend keeping to recognised companies such as Jekka’s Herbs, Thompson and Morgan and Mr Fothergill’s.

There are many other companies available - however, some growers have discovered that buying from unknown Internet companies can lead to plants they weren’t quite expecting! Some have been different varieties, or even different species, others were imported from China with false Customs declarations, and some have even been for illegal substances! Some of the contents have not even been seeds, but pellets of dirt.

There is also the potential danger of planting invasive species, or seeds grown with herbicides that can stop in the soil for up to three years. As the old saying goes “buyer beware”!

Some gardening clubs hold an annual event where they sell off spare seeds to the public. As packets usually have a plant by date you can be sure that these are okay to buy.

A good supplier will tell you exactly what to do on the seed packet. A recently purchased packet of basil seeds described the herb and its uses, then told me to sow under glass or plant indoors from February to June and harvest from July to October.

Follow the instructions for growing and transplantation. It left me in no doubt on how to proceed and echoes the ten steps below that we can all follow.

10 Tips for Growing Herbs From Seed

  1. Get ready. First, select your seeds and collect some clean containers (pots, cell packs, trays, even yoghurt pots) with holes in the bottom. Purchase good quality seed starting mix or potting soil. Garden soil can be too heavy and may contain weeds or diseases. Fill the container with the soil and water lightly with a spray bottle.
  2. Seeds vary quite a lot in size, and you can get an adjustable seed sower to help you distribute them evenly. These usually have two or three different sized holes to let the seeds flow through. Some seeds, like coriander, are larger and much easier to handle.
  3. Using a dibber (a purpose-made pointy thing), or an old pencil, make a hole that is three times as deep as the size of the seed, unless the packet tells you differently.
  4. Some herbs such as chamomile, oregano and thyme need light to germinate and need to stay on the surface, in contact with the moist soil.
  5. GENTLY press the seed or soil down, and lightly wet the soil again. Most require a thin layer of soil over the top of the seeds before lightly watering. See point two for the exceptions.
  6. For regular watering, rather than water from the top and risk displacing seeds, or drowning them, stand in a tray of water to allow the soil to absorb moisture from the bottom until moist. Do not let your seeds dry out.
  7. Maintain consistent moisture by covering your container to help trap moisture inside. Some trays come with a plastic cover, but you can also use a plastic bag – but don’t let it rest on the seeds – or use the top of a recycled bottle. Remove this cover as soon as the seeds sprout (when you see shoots coming through).
  8. Keep the soil warm to help them germinate, most need a minimum of around 20ºC. You can use a waterproof heating mat in an unheated greenhouse or keep them in a warm kitchen.
  9. Once the seedlings develop their second set of true leaves, applying a half-strength seaweed fertiliser weekly will help their growth. Again, be careful not to dislodge seedlings. After a month, move on to full-strength every other week until ready to transplant.
  10. Ensure your seedlings have enough light – preferably 14-16 hours of direct light a day. If the seedlings start turning to the light it shows they are not getting enough. At the same time, circulating the air helps prevent disease and encourages strong stems. Consider running a gentle fan near, but not directly on, the seedlings.

When to Move Seedlings Into a Larger Pot

This is called transplanting. Most seeds should be ready for transplanting in four to eight weeks, once the seedlings have at least two or three pairs of leaves.

About a week before the last expected frost date (this is different depending on where you live – check with the local weather forecast), your seedling will need to be hardened off. That’s the name given to the process of getting your plants used to the outside world.

It’s best to do this over a couple of weeks, first bringing your seeds in overnight, and then gradually extending the hours they are left outside. Alternatively, you can put them in a cold frame.

What Are Micro Herbs?

If you haven’t got a balcony, garden or allotment, don’t let that stop you from growing herbs. One of the simplest ways to enjoy their flavour, and in fact a more intense version, is to grow micro herbs (and greens). Tiny, edible, immature plants.

They arrived on the culinary scene a few years ago, when they were sprinkled on top of food and used to add height, colour and texture to a variety of dishes, but people really didn’t think of them as an actual herb, and they were just something chefs used to make the plate look fancy.

Introduction to Micro Herbs

In fact, each little leaf is a gold mine of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals such as iron, folic acid and potassium - they are a concentrated version of regular plants and add colour and flavour. You don’t need much space – a kitchen windowsill is ideal, and you don’t even need soil! Just water. They are ready to pick after a week to ten days.

You will also need a mix of leafy vegetable and herb seeds including, but not limited to basil, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, chard, chervil, chives, coriander, kale, lemon balm, mustard, parsley, radish, rocket, spinach and thyme and a reusable sowing tray with base and ‘grill’.

For beginners, Mr Fothergill/Johnson’s microgreens kit comes with a tray and three packets of seeds, other makes and sizes are available. You need to add water and a few sheets of paper towel or blotting paper.

I simply keep any suitable leftover seeds in an airtight box and give them a shake to get a good mix for sowing.

How to Grow Micro Herbs

Simply lay the paper towel in the ‘grill’, or on top of a plate, and mist to moisten. Generously sprinkle your seed mix over the towel and press in lightly. Fill the bottom tray with water until it reaches the paper. If you are using a plate be careful not to flood and move the seeds into clumps. Place the tray in a warm spot such as your kitchen worktop…and you are finished! Told you it was quick.

Just keep the tray where it is likely to get the most sun, ideally three to four hours a day. Top up the bottom tray with water regularly so it always reaches the paper or mist the seeds on a plate. They should never dry out. You should see them sprouting in a few days, and as they are growing so quickly, they are unlikely to need fertiliser.

The leaves should be ready to harvest after about a week, at least two true leaves should be present. I use scissors to cut at the base of the herb, just above the paper and then dispose of the roots. Pick as close as possible to the time when you will be using them to prevent them from wilting.

Ensure a constant supply by sowing successionally every week so that the leaves should be ready to harvest just as the next batch is growing well. Possibly every week to ten days, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

You can cover the seeds with a clear plastic bag with a couple of air holes to speed up germination. Some microgreen seed trays have two grills, meaning you can grow one half and a week later sow new seed in the second. You can also grow microgreens in anything from old yoghurt pots to pieces of guttering, but you will need compost for this. I find using water much cleaner and easier.

Because it’s easy and quick, children will enjoy growing micro herbs. It also means the housebound can grow their own herbs.

Do I Always Have to Grow From Seeds?

The answer is no! You can take away some of the risks and speed things up by using other methods.

Plug Plants

Purchasing plug plants can be an easier and more reliable alternative. However, they are more expensive than seeds.

I sometimes buy plug plants as I get quicker results when growing them. Someone else has taken care of the tender seedlings and provided me with something I can plant up straight away. They usually arrive in sturdy plastic packs, and I have always been very happy with the results if I am in a hurry. They come in a variety of sizes, depending on how long you want to wait before planting out:

The smallest plug plants are around 4 to 6 cm tall. They need to be planted into small pots as soon as they arrive and will need to be grown on for around 4 to 5 weeks before hardening off. If you are prepared to wait a month or so these tend to be the best value for money.

Standard plug plants are usually 8 to 12 cm tall and need to be “grown on” for around 3 to 4 weeks before planting out.

The next size, slightly taller, are the jumbo plug plants and are more robust. The largest, and most expensive, are garden-ready plug plants. They are more established and can usually be planted out straight away if there is no risk of a frost. If you have a larger budget, these are ideal for the impatient gardener.

Recipe: Easy Rosemary Bread

I ‘invented’ this way of making bread one Sunday when our supermarket home delivery order was missing the bread. I went with my gut instinct for what would work.

This recipe is ideal for someone new to baking. You don’t need weighing scales or any special equipment - just a bowl, a spoon or spatula and a baking tray or loaf/cake tin.

Ingredients

3 mugs of plain flour (you could also use a mix of half plain and half wholemeal), 1 level teaspoon of quick-acting yeast, 1 mug of warm water with 1 spoonful of oil (olive, rapeseed or vegetable), a tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary and a teaspoon each of sea salt and sugar. You can use other herbs in the bread, although woody herbs tend to stand up better to cooking.

Method

Author - Lynda Warren


Browse more Mirthy articles by clicking here.