Growing Herbs in Interior Alaska

This is second in the series of articles focusing on growing food in interior Alaska.

Don’t just rely on store bought dried herbs in spice bottle or a box!  You can grow all kinds of herbs in your own backyard and preserve them for winter use.

They don’t use a lot of space, I grow mine in containers that I bring in to my garage to enjoy fresh herbs all winter long.  Of course I have to make sure the plants are healthy for transition to indoors and am judicious in what I can bring in.  Make sure there are no bugs in the plant or your whole house may suffer with little gnats flying around. Check the plants carefully before dragging them in. Healthy, bug free plant outside is a healthy bug free plant inside.  I place my herbs near a window in my garage so they can get light.  I very rarely can get them to stick around past December.  The growth slows down and the plant then needs to be cut down and herbs preserved.

Outdoors, in summer growing season, herbs like a sunny location and well-drained, fertile soil—and they will thrive. But don’t overplant!  One plant per container is all I grow.   I find that I get a better harvest though, when I give each type of herb plant plenty of room in it’s own pot. I learned my lesson with Mint.  I planted 4 mint plants, was a bit greedy I guess and I was up to my arms in mint.  Plus I made the mistake of planting it in my raised bed and it took over.  Mint is a runner, so, I “contain” these herbs now in planters. One plant per container and that’s enough for my needs.

I start all my herbs with cuttings, or starters in 2-inch pots.  I grow, Basil, (Thai, Sweet basil, and Purple), Thyme, Sage, Oregano, Mint, Cilantro and Rosemary. It’s the best smelling, aromatic part of my garden.  As soon as the leaves start to grow, I make trips to my herb garden and snip a few sprigs for salad, salmon, or even bring in rosemary for scones. And I cook with fresh herbs all summer and part of winter.  However, a word of caution, unless you cook with herbs a LOT, you will have to contend with herbs bolting.  Cilantro is especially prone to go that way.  Snip the herbs from all over the plant to promote growth, this will prevent bolting.

Cooking with herbs is a primary way I use my herbs.  I also dry them in trays outsid in the sun and store them in dry and clean mason jars to use in winter. Herbs can also be dried in the oven. Temperatures should be at the lowest setting for drying herbs. Not all ovens can be used optimally to dry herbs, so I leave the oven door propped open a little to allow moisture to escape. Once they are almost dry, I leave the baking sheet or tray out for additional air-drying to remove any remaining moisture before putting them into the jars. I also use up all my basil to make pesto to freeze. Herbs can also be placed in a vase as a fragrant display on the kitchen counter.

For more guidance, Alaska Cooperative Extension Service publishes “An Alaskan Herb Garden” which is a 74-page guide on growing herbs in Alaska.