How to Avoid Ten Mistakes New Herb Gardeners Make

This time I will present ten mistakes that are often done when you want to create a beautiful garden or park. I hope these ten mistakes you can avoid based on the tips how to avoid these mistakes. Hope you succeed.

So you're thinking of herb gardening, or maybe you tried it last year and it was an utter disaster? Have no fear. There are a few simple mistakes that many herb newbies make (and I know, because I made most of 'em myself). Master these simple and practical tips for herb gardening and you'll be using your own fresh herbs like Mario Batali in no time.

Fresh herbs are one of the greatest ways to increase the taste of your food healthfully. I often toss whatever leafy herbs are hand liberally into a salad to add unexpected variations in flavor (basil, oregano and dill are all great choices). Fresh herbs can add punch to sauces or create intensely flavorful crusts for roasted meats. While fresh herbs are now regularly available at grocery stores year round, growing your own herbs is a great way to build mastery over your food. Growing herbs at home can be easy whether you live in a house in the suburbs or an apartment in the city.

Let it be known that I have the blackest of thumbs. I routinely kill houseplants and whether from too much love or too much neglect I never really know. Moreover, I live in a condo in Chicago, so I only have pots on my back fire escape as my city "garden." In fact, I'll argue that it is my black thumb that gives me the bona fides to give beginner gardeners tips, because I have figured out how to grow herbs and am painfully aware of every lesson I learned along the way.

It surprises me how often I bump into friends who are flummoxed about some aspect of herb gardening. And strangely, I feel there are few practical guides to growing herbs on the internet for someone just starting out. Most of the advice is geared towards high end gardeners who can make sense of soil PH and whatnot. When I was starting out, what I really needed was some sort of herb gardening for dummies. So here is my quick and practical advice for growing herbs for beginners.


Mistake 1: Growing from seed. When you first start out trying to grow fresh herbs, I recommend you begin by trying to grow from seedlings rather than planting your own seeds. These great little starter plants are widely available in grocery stores in the late spring. For the same price as a packet of fresh herbs from the produce section, you can buy your own little starter plant. Lots can go wrong in the seed to seedling transition (including not thinning out plants properly), so its probably best to begin by skipping that complicated task or you are in danger of washing out before you really begin.


Mistake 2: Starting with the wrong varieties. I recommend you start by trying to grow fresh basil. It is the perfect trainer herb. First, basil grows quickly, allowing you to observe the effects of your care more easily. Second, basil leaves wilt visibly when not watered enough, but recovers well if you water the wilted plant. This makes basil a great ‘canary in the mineshaft’ to help you figure out how much water is enough.


Mistake 3: Watering herbs like houseplants. Instead, water herbs a moderate amount every day. While some houseplants flourish with one solid watering per week, most delicate herbs require moderate and regular watering. This is particularly true during hot summer months. If you have good drainage at the bottom of your pot (at least a drainage hole, possibly rocks beneath the soil), it will be difficult to water herbs too much.


Mistake 4: Not cutting early and often. As a novice gardener, it may seem like your puny little plant just isn't ready for a trip to the barber, but then you will find yourself sitting there wishing for leaves without much success. Again, basil is a great herb to practice pruning. As with all herbs, you want to cut the herb just above a set of growing leaves. With basil, when you cut the plant that way, the originally trimmed stem will no longer grow. However, two new stems will grow around the original cutting, creating a “V” shape (see the photo above, can you spot the Vs?). If you don’t trim basil aggressively, it will continue to grow straight up, and become too tall and top-heavy. Making your first trim approximately 3-4” above the soil produces a nice sturdy plant. Of course you want to be sure you are always leaving a few good sturdy leaves on the plant (see below). As it continues to grow, continue to prune it approximately every 3-4" for a nice solid plant. I like to let it grow for some time and then cut back to within 2-3 inches of the original cut. After only a few early trial cuts, this usually makes for a nice clipping with plenty of basil to use for a pizza.


Mistake 5: Taking the leaves from the wrong place. When you are just starting out it seems to make so much sense to pick off a few big leaves around the bottom of the plant, and let those tender little guys at the top keep growing. Wrong. Leave those large tough old guys at the bottom alone. They are the solar panels that power your herb's growth. Once your plant is big enough to sustain a decent harvest, keep on taking from the top, as you have been when you were pruning. That way you get all those tender new herbs that are so tasty, and your plant gets to keep its well developed solar power system in place. Plus, if you pluck from the base and leave the top intact, you get a tall skinny plant that will flop over from its own weight (and yes, I know this from experience). When you pluck from the top, instead of clipping off just below a pair of leaves, you want to clip off just above a pair of leaves. It is a bit counter-intuitive as a novice, but trust me it works. The place where the leaf joins the stem is where new growth will occur when your plant sends off new stems in a V.


Mistake 6: Letting your plants get too randy. If you are pruning regularly, this may never become an issue, but unless you are growing something for its edible flowers, be sure to cut back herbs before they start growing flowers. My friend once brought me to her backyard garden and pointed, frustrated, at her wimpy, small basil plants. "I just keep tending them, but they don't even produce enough leaves to put on a salad!" she lamented. I pointed to the glorious stalk of flowers at the top of each plant, "That's your problem" I explained. Because herbs are kind of like college boys: if you give them half a chance, they will focus all their energy on procreation and neglect growth. If you want leaves, keep cutting off the little flower buds whenever you find them (see photo above), and it will encourage your plant to focus on growing more leaves.


Mistake 7: Using tired soil with no nutrients. Tired soil that has been sitting in your garden or lawn for ages often looks grey and a little depressing. Would you want to grow in that stuff? Give your plants a dose of the good stuff and they'll thank you for it. I grow my herbs in a combination of potting soil, used coffee grounds (with a near-neutral PH, available for free at Starbucks), and organic compost. If I have some on hand, I also throw in crushed egg shells. Those without access to compost (and no deep commitment to organic growing) may find Miracle grow useful. My momma swears by it for tomatoes. A diluted solution of Miracle grow occasionally can help many herbs flourish.


Mistake 8: Getting in a rut. There is an element to passion about herb gardening. In order to be good at it, you need to feel rewarded. So don't stick too long with one or two herbs just because they work. Branch out to a few other basic herbs that you will use regularly in your kitchen. There are few things more rewarding as an urban foodie than being able to pop out to the fire escape to clip fresh herbs to use in my cooking. Once you have become comfortable with basil, I recommend moving on to try growing oregano, mint, rosemary and thyme. All are regularly useful herbs in the kitchen, and all are relatively easy to grow. You will notice that rosemary cleaves after cutting in a somewhat similar way to basil, but grows much more slowly, so the effect is difficult to notice. Some plants also respond to clipping by throwing out more full leaves at their base. I have long wanted to grow cilantro but have not had much luck with it.


Mistake 9: You mean there's more than one kind of mint?When choosing herbs, read the label carefully. For example, there are two main varieties of oregano: Mediterranean and Mexican. Mediterranean oregano is the more common variety, and what you likely own if you have conventional dried oregano in your cupboard. I have Mexican oregano growing on my back fire escape. I love Mexican oregano in spicy dishes, for making beans from scratch, and often use it in tomato dishes where I don't want the flavor to seem too much like marinara. Similarly, there are many different kinds of mint. You don't want to be thinking of the pungent spearmint plant and accidentally take home the much more subtle (and not mojito savvy) applemint by mistake.


Mistake 10: Feed me Seymour! If you are planting in soil instead of pots, take care that your cute little herb seedling doesn't become a giant plant that takes over your garden. A word of warning for oregano and mint: both can be voracious growers. If you are planting outside in a garden, rather than in pots, you may want to consider potting these herbs and then burying the pots in the ground. This will add a measure of control to the root systems of these herbs, which can otherwise take over a garden and strangle nearby neighbors. When in doubt, check out wikipedia, they usually are careful to point out which herbs are in danger of overwhelming your garden.

Thus our tips this time, please practice. Hopefully what we share can help you in making or taking care of your garden more beautiful again. Do not go anywhere because we will always update this simple blog.
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My Other Blog About Diet and Exercise

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How to Build a Garden Bench

Assemble this attractive, comfortable garden bench. We show you how to build it so it's strong and durable, using a simple biscuit joinery technique.




Garden bench overview: Design, tools and materials

I built this bench four years ago. Since then, it’s been used and abused as a prop on photo shoots, and sat on and commented on by staff and passersby. The first thing they all notice is the design—simple but handsome. Then, as soon they sit down, they’re all surprised by how comfortable it is.
Finally, everyone admires my amazing woodworking skills. But the truth is, this bench is just plain easy to build. I used only biscuits and screws, the simplest types of joinery. Still, the bench is surprisingly strong. It’s been hauled around, knocked around and used as a mini scaffold—and once it even fell out of a moving pickup. But it’s still solid.
Round up the tools and materials
I spent about $95 for the lumber for this bench. You may have to buy more lumber to get knot-free pieces, so your cost may vary. You’ll find everything you need to build this bench at your local home center or lumberyard. Refer to the Materials List in Additional Information below, then choose the lumber carefully to avoid large knots.
In addition to the lumber, screws and wood plugs, you’ll need No. 20 wood biscuits and a special tool called a plate or biscuit joiner to cut the biscuit slots. You can buy a good-quality biscuit joiner for $100 to $170. You’ll also need some clamps, a table saw and a router fitted with a 1/4-in. round-over bit.
Figure A: Garden Bench Details
Overall Dimensions: 60" long, 16-1/2" wide, 16-3/4" tall
You can download and enlarge Figure A, including Part B and Part F Details, in “Additional Information” below. You can also download a complete Materials List and Cutting List in “Additional Information.”

Step 1: Cut out and drill the parts

Photo 1: Drill plug recesses

Use a 1/2-in. Forstner bit to drill recesses for the screws. Later you'll fill them with wood plugs to hide the screws. You can easily control the depth of the hole by drilling until the top of the cutter is flush with the surface.
Start by inspecting your boards and planning the cuts to take advantage of the knot-free sections. Use a table saw to rip the boards to the right width. For crisp, clean edges, rip about 1/4 in. from the edge of the boards before you rip them to the final width. To work around knots, you may have to rough-cut some of the boards to approximate length before ripping them. When you’re done ripping, cut the parts to length. We used a 1/4-in. round-over bit and router to ease the edges of the seat boards. It’s a great task for a router table setup if you have one.
Next, measure and mark the center of all the screw holes and drill 3/8-in.-deep holes for the 1/2-in. wood plugs. I used a Forstner bit to create clean, flat-bottom holes.

Step 2: Cut the biscuit slots

Photo 2: Cut biscuit slots for the seat rails

Mark the centers of the biscuit slots on masking tape. Then, with the plug recesses facing up, cut the slots in the narrow sides of the legs. Keep the plate joiner and leg tight to the bench top as you cut. Use tape to avoid marks on the wood and to keep track of the orientation of the pieces.

The final step in preparing the parts for assembly is cutting the biscuit slots. If you’ve read my previous plate joiner story, you know I’m a proponent of a technique I call the bench reference method. Rather than use the adjustable fence to position the slots, you simply place your work-piece and the base of the biscuit joiner against the bench top and cut the slot. To find the story, type “biscuit joints” in the search box above.
The only downside to this method is that the slot isn’t always centered on the part, so you have to pay close attention to orientation as you cut the slots and assemble the bench. You’ll see how I use masking tape to keep track of the orientation. Photos 2 – 5 show the plate-joining techniques I used to cut slots in the parts.

Step 3: Assemble the garden bench with biscuits and screws

Photo 6: Join the rails and legs with biscuits

Put a biscuit in the slot and dry-fit the leg and seat rail to make sure the rail is oriented correctly. It should be centered on the leg. Then spread glue in the slots and on the biscuit and press the leg and the seat rail together.
Photos 6 – 10 show the assembly steps. Biscuits connect the legs to the rails for extra strength. Spread exterior wood glue in the slots and on the biscuits. Then clamp the parts until the glue sets. Use 2-1/2-in. deck screws to attach the legs to the braces (Photos 7 and 9). If you aren’t using self-drilling screws, drill pilot holes to avoid splitting the parts. Attach the top slats to the frame with 1-5/8-in. deck screws.

Step 4: Finish the garden bench

Photo 11: Hide the screws with wood plugs

Glue flat-top wood plugs into the plug recesses. Use a cutoff dowel or a small block of wood to pound them flush.
I plugged the screw holes with 1/2-in. flat-top birch plugs, but if you own a drill press, you can make your own cedar plugs using a 1/2-in. plug cutter.
I finished the bench with Cabot Australian Timber Oil. This penetrating oil finish leaves the wood looking natural, but it has to be reapplied every year. For a glossy, more permanent finish, you could use Sikkens Cetol SRD or spar varnish.

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