If you enjoy cooking and gardening, I have got some great advice that will have anexciting impact on your garden beds and kitchen table. I have found that many gardeners are missing out on maximizing their harvests and the pleasures they can enjoy from a successful herb garden. 

One fundamental for growing basil, cilantro and dill is to plant three times a year. Too many gardeners plant just once in spring. Like other plants, these herbs (and others like them) have a growing cycle. When they begin to flower (or bolt) the plant has begun focusing energy on producing flowers and seeds, and not the leaves you are after. Try planting in April, June and during July or August. In this way, you can add 2-3 more months of fresh herbs to their tables. 

When selecting herbs at a nursery, most people go after the largest specimens. It is far better to select the smaller, younger and fresher plants. Herbs, like children, can be stunted if they don’t receive good care in the early stages of growth. Older and larger plants in a nursery or home center may have been shocked and stressed, and are ready to bolt instead of producing leaves. Try to find a supplier that receives their herbs on a weekly or every two-week basis. 

A common misconception is that herbs do not require fertilizer. If you’d like to maximize your harvest, fertilize twice a month with a 1/2 strength dosage of your favorite fertilizer. Watering properly is critical, too. While some herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage like it hot and dry, others like chives, parsley, and basil need thorough and regular watering. Check the soil with your finger, but do let the surface dry before watering to avoid root rot. 

When harvesting most herbs, don’t cut more than 50% of the plant. Use scissors to make a clean, healthy cut (no pulling on the plant). Many people wait until the plant matures before harvesting. Don’t! While it is true that a mature plant is at its peak of flavor, young leaves are tasty, too. You may need to use more of a younger herb than a mature plant, but why delay gratification? 

Finally, to store fresh herbs, make sure the leaves are not moist and put them in an airtight plastic bag with some air, which will provide a cushion. 

When you are ready to cook with fresh herbs, here is some good and counter-intuitive advice for you! First, with most fresh herbs you must use at least 2 to 3 times the amount of dry herbs called for in a recipe. (Dried herbs are actually stronger.) In addition, it is best to add fresh herbs during the last 15 minutes of cooking, or much of their flavor may be lost. Young plants may be less flavorful than mature plants, and you’ll be able to correctly adjust the amount of herbs you add to your dishes. In most cases, chop herbs with a sharp chef’s knife before using.