Raising herbs from seed

The majority of herbs are easy to grow from seed. Also, some types of herbs — interesting or offbeat or rare varieties — are often for sale only in seed form. Here's the good news: Unlike some flower and vegetable seeds, you don't have a long wait from sowing to productive plant.

To plant your herb seeds, follow these steps:

1. Prepare a flat of sterile soil mix or the pot in which you plan to keep the herb(s).

Be sure the flat or pot contains drainage holes to prevent the possibility of rot.

2. Sow the seeds on top of the mix or under a thin layer of mix, whichever the seed packet recommends.

The packet should also advise you on how far apart to sow.

3. Care for the seeds for a few weeks or until the seedlings are several inches high and ready to be transplanted.

Bottom watering is advisable, as is warm and indirect light — again, the necessary details will be on the seed packet. Place the container in a tub or sink in which it will be watered. Gradually add warm water (this will penetrate the soil quicker than cold water) so that it reaches a depth of about half the height of the container in which the seeds are sown. Let the container sit in this warm water until the surface of the soil in the container is wet (it will be a darker color). This may take an hour or so. Then either remove the seed container from the tub, or let the water out of the sink and allow the excess water to drain from the container.

Many herb seeds are quite small, and seed companies give you much more than you need in a single packet (for example, a typical packet of basil seeds can have 250 individual seeds in it!). Don't use them all at once.

The biggest mistake beginning herb gardeners make when sowing seeds is sowing too thickly. The result is a forest of small plants! Be conservative when sowing, and even so, you may still have to thin. (Wait till the seedlings have at least a second set of leaves before thinning; then carefully, carefully cut out the weaker plants with tiny scissors.)

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