Herbs: gardening for the in-doorsman

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 07:09 PM


If cold weather keeps you out of the garden more than you’d like, consider raising herbs indoors. Growing herbs in containers is easy and fun and provides a delicious and nutritious addition to your winter cuisine.

While the classic scenario is raising them in the kitchen windowsill, this will not be practical for many people. In fact, the number one limiting factor is light, so if your kitchen window doesn’t get full sun, consider other options. An un-shaded south facing window is best.

Another alternative is to raise them under artificial light. A small fluorescent shop light or “under-cabinet” light would work well, and can easily be hung from a frame made of scrap wood or PVC pipe.

An ideal container for herb plants is a six-inch diameter pot. As with all potted plants, drainage holes are a must. A high-quality potting mix is also recommended. While I’m not one to pass up a bargain, I’ve noticed that some of the inexpensive mixes are on the heavy side and don’t drain well.

You may be able to find starter plants at a local nursery. In addition, many herbs are easy to start from seed, including basil, cilantro, dill, fennel and parsley.

I would place several seeds in each pot and keep them consistently moist until they sprout. A warm location will speed up germination. Once sprouted, remove all but the strongest plant or two. If you’re careful, you can transplant the extra seedlings to another pot to share with a friend.

Many potting mixes have nutrients already added, but if not start fertilizing a week or two after germination. The standard water-soluble houseplant fertilizers work well. Feed every week or two, or as you notice the small plants losing their lustrous green color. Once mature, fertilizing once every month or two is sufficient.

Another option is to find a friend with indoor herbs and ask for cuttings. Many will root easily in water, or in a container with a consistently moist potting mix.

Once the plants reach a few inches in height, you can begin harvesting and enjoying. Simply pinch out the tender new growth. This also triggers the plants to grow bushier and more compact. Frequent harvesting encourages production of that tender foliage that has maximum flavor.

I suspect more houseplants are killed by excessive water as opposed to a lack of. Frequency will depend on many factors such as the potting mix, temperature, light, pot size and growth rate. For best results, wait until the potting mix is nearly dry, then water to the point of saturation.

Indoor herbs should have few pest problems. Simply keep an eye out for those standard houseplant pests such as aphids, whiteflies, spider mites and fungus gnats. The first three can be effectively managed with insecticidal soap, while the last indicates excessive moisture.

If you grow more than you can use, herbs can be frozen or dried for later use. For the freezer, simply placing in a zipper seal bag should work for most herbs. To dry them, try placing in a brown paper bag. Use a hole-punch to create ventilation, then hang in a warm and dry location.

If raising indoor herbs doesn’t satisfy your gardening needs, don’t despair. After all, peas can be sown outdoors in January!