Starting a balcony herb garden (need advice - including automatic watering system)

I know virtually nothing about gardening. However, I would like to grow small amounts of chives, basic, dill, rosemary etc. for cooking purposes. I have a small apartment with a balcony and a good amount of sun. Are there any good websites that explain how to start this? Should I get a kit (please recommend one), individual packets of seeds, or plant existing small plants to start off? What type of soil, etc. Besides watering, what else do I need to do to care for the plants. Also, I often go away on business trips, can someone recommend an automatic watering system that works well. Something I can fill up with water and operates on batteries (I don't have a hose outlet near my balcony). Looking for advice. Thanks
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What hemisphere are you in? (Are you in australia or new zealand for example?) In the northern hemisphere its late for balcony gardens.. In the springtime, my local nursery offers window boxes of herbs. (Waterloo Gardens in Wayne, PA.) Your local garden shop might do that as well.
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Get the biggest pots you have room for. Then you can plant things that take the same type of soil and water needs together and have room for them to spread. A lot of the more aromatic herbs are from the sunny Mediterranean area, so they'll often need less water than vegetables, for example. But pots dry out easily, so they'll need more water than if you were planting in the ground. Good drainage is a must!
There are lots of books and pamphlets around that focus on herb growing. If you look through one or two, you will probably get plenty of instruction and a few ideas for more herbs to add to your garden. You should probably have one to refer to as the season progresses anyway.
I'd use starter plants, which might be hard to find this time of year (depends where you are, of course). Most seed packets have way more seed in them than you will need. With healthy starts, you are several months ahead of seed.
Deb
--
In Oregon, the pacific northWET. NWF habitat #32964



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This stuff works pretty well, and you don't need any batteries or any other power source: http://www.blumat-shop.de/index.php?language=en
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Some perennial herbs grow slowly and take a while to get established (rosemary, oregano, thyme, chives), so you may want to get those as small plants from the nursery (or even your grocery store--some will sell small potted herbs). Basil and dill grow easily from seed. Parsley is also not hard to grow from seed, but it helps the germination rate if you soak the seeds overnight before planting. Dill grows quite large (3 feet or more), and to get useable amounts of basil you also need several decent-sized plants--they'll get to a couple feet and should be in fairly large pots, like 8" in diameter. I don't think there's any particular advantage to buying a kit.
You can use anything for pots, so long as they have drainage holes.
Herbs are pretty easy to care for and will generally tolerate a lot of neglect. If your business trips are a week or less, you may not need to mess with an automatic waterer if you set up a system where your pots can be sitting in a tray with some extra water, moved to the coolest, shadiest part of your balcony while you're gone.
Rosemary is a "tender perennial," some varieties are hardy (will survive outside in the winter) to zone 7 US. If you routinely get winter temperatures below 10 degrees F, you'll have to get a new one each year (and as it is slow growing, it's probably not worth it).
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DrLith wrote:

The good thing about most herbs is they are weeds in their native areas. Get types that do well in your zone number and they will do great with little care.
What I've done - Look up my location on a USDA zone chart so I know what to look for. Go to a local large nursery and shop through their pre-sprouted herbs. Look at the zones listed and pick the types with your zone on the center of the range. If you're in zone 7, pick the one that says zones 6-8 on the write-up over the one that says zones 5-7.
What you'll end up with is a few herbs that will grow like crazy in your location. Maybe it will be the ones you listed above, maybe a different list. Roll with the punches and figure out how to use the ones you get.
We're now in Chicago and my balcony herb garden has basil and thyme that I already knew how to use and sorel and lovage that I had to look up in books to even figure out what they were. The rosemary, it makes a few leaves, but it broke my rule of picking the center of the range. So far I've learned that sorrel and lovage are good in omlettes and as a small addition to salads.

Chuckle. This reminds me of when we lived in southern California. There they plant rosemary on the slopes near freeways. The stuff gets so lush it seems like it eats any car that gets a flat and strays off the pavement.
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Lee Valley is a good resource to see what stuff you'll need for watering supplies. They are a little expensive, but you'll get the idea. Most of the stuff you'll need (Pump, pvc tubing, spagetti tubes & drip irrigators) you can get at your local 'growers' store... Ie. the hydrophonics shop that sells stuff to folks growing cash crops. Don't know if you can get the required psi on battery, unless you set up a good gravity feed system. But, a pump with resovoir on a timer is simple to set up & not too costly...
Good Luck Mathew
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Good luck with your herb garden. This link may help since it gives definitions also. http://www.wvu.edu/%7Eagexten/hortcult/herbs/ne208hrb.htm
Sincerely, Tony www.thingsherbal.com
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