How can a good cook become a great cook? Let me drop some wisdom in two simple words: fresh herbs. Fresh basil and oregano can turn a ho-hum tomato sauce into something special. Fresh chives can turn an ordinary roast chicken into a memorable feast. Creating your own indoor herb garden will help you take your cooking up a notch.
Here are 10 simple secrets for a successful indoor herb garden:
1. Choose your herbs carefully.
Some herbs are easier to grow indoors than others. Generally speaking, chives, lemongrass, mint, parsley, basil, and bay leaves are easiest to grow. Of course, what one gardener has great success with another may struggle with.
An herb such as mint may actually fare better indoors than outside. That's because mint spreads so easily and can rapidly overtake a garden. By growing it inside in a pot you are controlling its growth and not allowing it to get out of control.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of growing herbs indoors is that they are near the kitchen and easily accessed for cooking.
2. Let there be light!
Just like you, indoor herbs crave natural light. That's why a windowsill is a great location for an indoor herb garden. A table placed in front of a window also works well. If space is tight, consider hanging pots either from the ceiling or on a sunny wall.
Most culinary herbs are Mediterranean in origin, which means that they like at least six hours of sun each day. If you live in an area that doesn't get much sun, especially during the winter, then you may need to supplement with a full spectrum fluorescent light or halide lights.
3. Your indoor herb garden likes the same temperature you do.
Most of us are comfortable between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, and the same is true for herbs. Because my indoor herb garden is near my baseboard heater it is prone to uneven drying. This means that the side of the pot closest to the heater is drier than the other side. This problem is easily solved by rotating the pots (see #6 below).
4. Don't drink too much!
Your indoor herb garden needs water, but not too much. Most gardeners are guilty of over watering their indoor herbs. Too much water in the soil layer forces air from the root zone, reducing the plant’s oxygen supply. I bring my plants to the kitchen sink, soak the soil, and allow the water to drain in the sink a couple times a week. I find that this method works better than dribbling a small amount of water on the top of the soil every day or every other day. If you see rotting or yellow leaves, then you know your herbs are getting too much water.
Once established, your herb plants won't require much fertilizer. Consider applying an organic fertilizer a couple times a year.
Now you know that your indoor herb garden is sensitive to how much water it needs. Part of keeping the plant's soil at the right moisture level is making sure that it has proper drainage. To this end, place a thin layer of small rocks or pebbles at the bottom of your pot before filling it with soil. Also, choose a soil that is specifically formulated for growing plants indoors; it should contain peat moss.
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6. Rotate Your Indoor Herb Garden.
Rotating the plant allows it to develop in a balancedway.Every week or two turn your plants so that a different side is receiving direct sunlight. Rotating also helps with air circulation, which is critical for avoiding mold on your plants.
7. Pretty pots are fun and functional.
Clay pots, mason jars, and tin cans all make great pots for an indoor herb garden. Get creative and paint the pots in fun colors to match your decor. Paint them with chalkboard paint, and label them with decorative chalk designs. Whatever type of pot you choose make sure that it has drainage holes in the bottom. Place a plastic lid under each pot to collect any moisture or loose soil.
8. Don't let pests pester you...too much.
The best way to deal with a pest infestation is through prevention. So, when you shop for your plants be sure to check for any creepy-crawlies before buying. Likewise, if you're bringing plants from an outdoor garden inside, be sure to check for pests before they come in. Here's a useful link for dealing with pests.
9. Be brave!
Once you've had a bit of success with the easier to grow herbs, try some that are more challenging. Consider trying basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Each of these herbs is a bit "controversial"--one gardener reports that they're easy to grow inside and another swears that they have no success with it. You be you, and be brave! The only harm in trying a new herb is possibly having to toss it in the compost bin.
10. Happy harvest.
Harvest herbs by snipping (with your fingers or scissors) just above the point on the stem where one or two new leaves are growing. This is called the leaf node. By snipping at this point you are not only harvesting but also pruning the plant and encouraging new growth.
Now that you have fresh herbs from your indoor herb garden be sure to use them in new and interesting recipes. Bon appetit!
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image of indoor herbs via Shutterstock