We see a lot of benefits of growing our own fresh herbs, such a quality of flavour, aroma in the garden and a real connection to the food we eat. But can it actually work out cheaper as well?
The Office For Foreign Affairs compiled a factsheet about the growing popularity of fresh herbs, citing our enjoyment of the culinary experience as the force behind this. Are we getting good value for our money though buying herbs that will die within days and produce more food waste? Pound for pound it is cheaper to grow your own herbs.
In 2017 Tesco alone boasted that they were selling 50,000 potted herbs a day, 364 days a year! So what we are looking at here is a trend towards eating more fresh herbs, but is cost the only motivating factor to our spending habits? Does getting cheaper herbs mean getting lower quality?
Cost Of Growing Herbs At Home
It is human nature to spend what we can afford and maybe even sometimes push ourselves a little bit further. I am sure at some point I will write the article that I hope my husband reads with the super luxury herb plant stand in, built in heaters, irrigation system and daylight lamps. But not today. Today we are going to look at realistic, cheaper base level costs of a herb garden. How to get the most bang for your buck without having to be a gardening guru!
It is important that we look at growing conditions and how to help your plants thrive, but also how to choose the right herbs to actually grow.
If you are new to the culinary exploration that is fresh herbs have a look at another article I wrote about which herbs go with which food. It is not exhaustive but I hope it forms a starting point for your own home. It will get expensive if you are buying seeds to grow unusual herbs that wont suit your families meal plans!
If you are trying to grow anything that you don’t actually like to eat then you will get disheartened. Similarly if you grow anything too hard to keep alive! We also find that no matter which herbs you grow, if you have to drag yourself to the end of the dark garden on a rainy night then that will seriously affect the chances of you harvesting your crop!
Don’t forget all of the benefits to growing your own herbs that money can’t buy! Relaxation and ways to spend more time with family.
TOP TIP – You can grow Organic herbs without the premium price tag! It is actually cheaper to work with nature than against it with chemical! Herbs can provide a lot of protection for other plants as well!
The most popular herbs in the UK right now are Basil, Parsley and Chives.
You have three main options here for buying to eat.
- Buy from seed and grow your own. Not too bad if you are going for the faster growing herbs. I certainly would not consider buying ready grown cress for example as it will take between 7 and 10 days to get a good crop that you can cut and come again around 4 times. With the supermarket bought cress it seems to die after one snip. A packet of cress seeds would be anything from 99p to a few pounds whereas shop bought is about 25p to 50p. So you would have to know that the seeds you bought will give you greater yield each time you sow as well. As having more seeds to scatter, therefore meaning you will get a greater number of crops. For some seeds you will need a heated propagator or greenhouse to get them started in.
- Buying living herbs. This can be very expensive as you can easily let them die almost immediately. We have plenty of tricks for keeping them alive, but if you don’t want to repot then you are pretty much at the mercy of the soil quality the supermarkets have planted it with. You will need to have good quality peat free compost as well as new pots or planting space. Living herbs work out expensive if you do not keep them alive at around £1.25- £2.50 each pot. If you do keep them alive, however they can work out very cost effective indeed as they are really just overcrowded seedlings. The overall look is very pleasing, but the plants themselves will suffer.
- Buying fresh cut herbs. This is an expensive wasteful way to buy herbs and you will be able to save a lot of money from growing your own if this is your preferred method normally. We have lots of tips to keep them alive longer as well, but really cut as you cook from the herbs that you grow.
How To Reduce The Cost Of Growing Herbs
The main costs to growing herbs will be seeds or plants and soil. So let’s look at them individually and see how we can save money on each of these areas.
How To Be Even Cheaper Growing From Seeds
Look for seed swaps in your local area. One packet of seeds can have as many as 1500 seeds. Be wary though as not all of these seeds will be viable for germination. I prefer a seedling swap. Where we give each other younger plants that need growing on. Meaning that for the cost of one packet of seeds you can have as any plants as you can grow and then swap them with friends to get an entire herb garden!
Herbs like Parsley are not as straight forward to grow as you may think and optimum warmth levels will really play a large part in your success levels. Often a soak overnight will separate the dud seeds from the winners.
Basil will happily grow from seed and is one to think about for a warm windowsill. Germination time is not too long, but it will take a bit longer for the plants to produce edible leaves.
Chives are a very carefree herb to grow from seed and would be a great project with a child. You can cut them and eat again and grow indoors or outside.
TOP TIP – Look for herbs that self seed.
Sometimes we can think of them as worrying as they can want to run rampant in our gardens, however you can catch them and save for the next year.
To harvest and store the seeds you will need to make sure you have an airtight container. Something as simple as an old margarine container. Label it well and pop the seeds in a dark and cool place. We have a drawer set aside for seed saving.
How to Be Cheaper With Your Plants
Look to buy from the nursery when they are younger plants. Go for plants that can be separated and grown on by propagation like rosemary. So many herbs can be expensive to buy fully grown but plants like lavender can be really worth the initial investment as you will later be able to grow from the main plant with relative ease.
Once you have plants that will thrive with division like sage, why not swap them or give as gifts? When you find friends and family who enjoy eating and cooking, we think you will find ones who enjoy growing nearly as much.
We bought some French Tarragon as plugs and have grown them into large plants now, so we have given 4 of them away in exchange for a few marjoram plants.
If you do buy from supermarkets as you have that one exciting recipe to follow, make sure to take all of our advice to keep them alive longer! You never know, you may well be harvesting from the same plant for decades to come! Lot’s of our followers talk about thyme and rosemary in this way! Soft herbs will not be so likely to live forever, although the cuttings you take this year may go on for a lot longer!
How To Save Money On Compost
Certain herbs will need certain levels of drainage, your herbs grown in drier climates are especially keen on roots which are never water logged. But apart from that a nice mature compost can really provide them with what they need.
We are very ‘lucky’ to have some great chickens that poop nearly all day long. So we have great starting material to work with! You don’t need anything special for your set up. Just a few wooden pallets will be enough to make three sides. Or you can buy smaller scale compost bins to deal with kitchen waste.
Depending on the compost bin it may take around a year for some decent quality black gold. Then you can use it in your pots. We are not adverse to a spot of green manure to help let the weeds die down without having to put too much effort in! Green manure can also be used as a mulch to keep weds down and moisture locked in.
Buy Herbs That Are Really Hard To Get Hold Of!
We have found that since the new social distancing that we can buy most foods in the supermarket, apart from a few less common ones. So whilst it may not be cheaper to grow your own Lovage or Sorrel at least you can guarantee that you will have some for those summer salads.
Both Lovage and Sorrel are seriously easy to grow and you will have a crop for a long time to come. So actually, yes, these are easier and cheaper to grow than to hunt down and source. Lovage is a real architectural dream in the garden and will add a grown up look to an otherwise flat spot. Sorrel is perfect in our little salad bar, but remember a little goes a long way so just a few leaves thinly sliced in any salad.
Micro herbs are the latest trend that may actually be a real winner. However they are expensive to buy and will not last long in the fridge. So try growing your own to save money and produce less waste.
Our next favourite herb that is a bit sneaky to get hold of would be fennel. This is 100% cheaper to grow from seed than to buy in the shops!
How To Grow Herbs Without A Garden
This seems to be what trips people up. The fear that you need a good acre or two to grow on. In reality a lot of herbs come from Mediterranean countries and thrive in almost drought conditions. Take Chamomile, it will live in a pot and become almost a weed in your garden if you let it. So sometimes a pot on a patio or balcony can be just as successful.
Your windowsill can become your new best friend. So many of the herbs we have mentioned will thrive in a well lit sunny spot. You must be prepared to water proof your area to some extent though, as otherwise growing herbs can be costly. It is not cheaper to buy a new windowsill than to buy a plastic cover or drip tray! Make sure any plant pots that you use have water drainage holes in.
Making Your Own Planters Is Cheaper
Once you have really got the hang of growing your own, it kind of takes off. We try not to use single use plastics but when you buy food it can be unavoidable. So why not make them in to planters? Put holes for drainage and then you can use the lids as water catchers.
We use strawberry plastic as mini greenhouses as well as mushroom containers to start the seeds off. No need for a perfect look there but there are loads of ways to perk up old plastic and make pretty cool pots from them!
Other Benefits To Growing Your Own Herbs
It is not just about it being cheaper. You will enjoy getting outside into the garden. It is proven to be relaxing and calming. I think that homegrown is so much better, but I am the writer for a website all about herbs! So I would say that.
TOP TIP – Do not become that person. You know the one who tells everyone that herbs that are homegrown really taste different. That they will never know the joy of eating freshly picked sun warmed oregano and popping it into your Pimms.
If you have children, get them involved and see if they can start a lifelong enjoyment of gardening. Herbs really are an easy route in!
Home grown herbs are cheaper and easier than you think, so why not give them a go today?