How To Grow Herbs From Supermarkets
by Vince Wong
The most common reason cited by Singaporeans for growing herbs at home is cost: herbs are rather expensive here, so growing them at home seems like the sensible, frugal thing to do. And we are sensible, frugal Singaporeans.
But that’s only half the story.
The truth is, most of us are descended from generations of immigrant farmers – hence growing food is deeply rooted (ha!) in our genes.
But having lived your entire lives in a city, you might not know where to begin horticulturing. And let’s face it, you might actually be put off by the hassle of having to learn all about soil pH, the 170 different types of plant growth hormones, the 250 types of soil fertilizers, and the like. I know I was.
However, I’m not aiming for the Presidency here. Surely growing some stuff can be as easy and simple as one or two visits, max, to a nearby supermarket. I’m sure more of us would take a stab at proper botany if we didn’t have to science the sh*t out of this.
And if you do somehow succeed, you too might discover that being an urban farmer is your life’s purpose, and before you can spell ‘oregano’, you’ll be giving up a lucrative career in advertising to start an urban farm in Queenstown.
Have I got you excited by all the possibilities yet? Enough preamble! Here comes the first herb of my list:
Parsley goes well with everything doesn’t it? It goes well especially with a supermarket, where you can buy them either ready-to-eat or stuffed into a tiny pot for budding career gardener-ists.
If you have green fingers and want to take a chance on pre-packaged parsley, choose the freshest bunch (no dry, rotten, or black portions) you can buy that still has intact roots. Then pop those roots into a glass of water as soon as you get home. Wait for the roots to grow out, then repot into well-drained soil.
You can also get pre-potted parsley; just get a larger pot and some potting mix from the supermarket. As a guideline, the bigger pot should be at least about an inch deeper and wider than the original.
Transplanted/repotted parsleys will thrive with only a moderate amount of light (read: about 6 hours a day of direct sunlight, or my daily post-lunch coma snooze), making it a great option for Singaporean homes which should get at least that much light a day from any one spot.
Pro-Tip #1: How to water your plants: water each pot evenly until water emerges from the draining holes at the bottom, then stop.
With basil, you are in luck: this is globally considered the ‘gateway drug’ of herb gardens because it is one of the easiest to grow anywhere in the world. That’s probably why it is so widely available in our local supermarkets.
Once you bring your potted basil home, pluck off the leaves at the top to encourage growth, leave the stem with some leaves still on, de-pot, wash excess soil out of the roots, and place the bottom of the plant in a cup of water, in a spot with at least 6 hours of sun. Once the roots have grown out an inch longer, you can place the whole lot in a bigger pot.
Continually pinch off the tops to get new leaves growing and continue to give them plenty of sunlight, for basil craves attention. Basil seedlings tend to be quite thirsty if they get plenty of sun, so you will need to water them daily, sometimes twice.
Here’s how to tell: if the leaves start flattening out instead of staying curled up, they are probably dehydrated. So shower them with your love and/or water.
Pro-Tip #2: To know whether or not to water a plant, push your finger into the topsoil, feeling for moisture an inch below. Only water the plant if it feels dry.
- Coriander (also called chinese parsley, dhania or cilantro)
This is possibly my all-time favourite herb. My late grandmother used to cook up a luncheon of blanched chicken with oiled fragrant rice (chicken rice, in other words), garnished with parsley and a sprig o’ snipped-up cilantro leaves in a light soy sauce. Dip the tip of each chicken slice into thusly-cilantroed condiment before masticating slowly in mouth. Perfect.
It is quite difficult to start a pot of coriander from just a supermarket cutting, so buy the seeds (sometimes called cilantro seeds), soak them overnight, then crack them open with your fingers or by rolling over them with a glass bottle. Next day, sprinkle cracked seeds onto dry-to-the-touch potting mix, two to three centimeters apart, and air out the pot daily like you do with laundry.
It may take two to three weeks to get seedlings sprouted, so patience is key.
Pro-Tip #3: Underwatering is when plants look wilted and weak, or if leaves turn yellow or are brown.
Nobody needs an introduction to the humble mint. One of my favourite uses for it is as the secret ingredient for a refreshing lemonade or as the star of mint juleps: a heady mix of bourbon, water and crushed ice. Here’s a recipe. Happy to help.
You can start your mint plantation from most supermarket cuttings. Remove all the leaves from the stem save for a few at the top, place that stem in a glass of water and wait for the roots to show. Then put that in well-drained fertile soil, in a spot facing plenty of sun and water.
Mint is both a grower and a show-er (it grows easily and abundantly), so you’ll have to harvest the freshest leaves off the top regularly.
Mint juleps for nightcaps, anyone?
Pro-Tip #4: If plants look wilted, water the plant thoroughly (until water emerges from the drainage holes in the pot) and place it in the shade. Prune dried leaves. If roots and stems are damaged, the plant is not likely to recover.
The last herb in this list can’t be mentioned without also punctuating each word by raising your hands while curling your thumbs and four fingers towards each other, like Italian men do when they want to make a point. Indeed the oregano is ubiquitously associated with Italian and Mediterranean cuisine, useful in any recipe involving cheese, pasta, sourdough or eggs. Good times.
As with all the other herbs on this list, there really isn’t much to growing oregano. Get plucky with leaves, make growy with roots, then go potty. Simples.
Pro-Tip #5: Oregano, basil and parsley can all go in the same pot or wall hanger, like beer buddies. They look good doing it too.
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