By Léo Azambuja

Herb starts at Hoku Natural Foods in Kapa‘a. Photo by Léo Azambuja

Almost two years ago, I wrote about my simple, yet effective plan of growing an herb garden. I bought different herb starts in a nursery in Kapahi and at Hoku Natural Foods in Kapa‘a, and planted them in several five-gallon pots.

The plan worked fine, and I didn’t have to buy herbs for a long time. But last year I left the island for two months, and my herbs didn’t do too well without my tender loving care. I did keep a few plants, but I needed to revisit my endeavor. Only this time, I had bigger plans.

I called it, The Revenge of the Herbs.

I bought the same cheapskate soil at Home Depot. I forgot how much it was, but I got several large bags for under $9 each; basically soil with near-zero nutritional value. That’s fine, because I did this before. I knew what I was doing. Fish fertilizer does wonders, thanks to a tip by the Kapahi nursery owner. He also suggested algae fertilizer. But since the fish fertilizer is much cheaper and worked so well, I didn’t go there.

I’m really bad at keeping tabs on numbers. But I know each bag can fill a little more than four five-gallon pots. Because my plans were to go big, the pots would cost me a small fortune. Each one was $4 or $5, and after multiplying it by dozens, I was looking at good chunk of money.

A couple of my friends suggested that I built a raised bed, but I wasn’t too happy about putting as semi-permanent structure in my backyard. I know I could easily dismantle a raised bed, but I would have to deal with all the soil. So I decided to put the herbs in five-gallon plastic bags. I know, plastic is bad, but the bags are durable, and hard plastic pots probably have a larger impact on the environment than soft plastic pots. And the price was less than $2 a piece.

I decided to start my new endeavor with sweet basil, learn from my mistakes, and move on to tomatoes and other herbs. I also decided not to use starters. Instead, I planted seeds, much cheaper. My first mistake, however, was to plant them all in a couple egg cartons. It turns out the seeds were really good, and pretty much every single one sprouted, with several tight clusters of starters. I should’ve have had more faith on Mother Nature.

No problem. Once they were a couple inches tall, I separated them, and placed the best ones in 22 plastic bags. I ended up with another 30 or so starters that I didn’t use. I felt bad for throwing them away, so I planted them all in a very large pot. I don’t expect these plants to do as well as the basil that have their own pot. But to my surprise, at this point, they are doing just as good. I’m actually really impressed, and can’t wait to see the results.

Since my sweet basil experiment, I am changing a few things for my next plants. Instead of egg cartons, I am using trays with peat pellets. They are quite inexpensive, and each tray has 72 pellets. You put three seeds in each pellet, and save only the strongest. When the starters are ready, you can easily transplant them to their permanent spot without disturbing their fragile roots. I have four trays ready to be used, and a few bags of seeds for heirloom and jelly bean tomatoes, Genovese basil, thyme and rosemary.

Once everything is in bags, watering them every morning may become an issue. So I got a $20 timer that screws on my garden faucet, and then I screw an irrigation hose on the timer. This will ensure the garden will be watered every day for how long and how many times a day I set it.

I can’t wait to get the second phase of this project going. Before long, I will be eating healthy and delicious food, while saving a bunch of money.