Growing herbs inside was my gateway drug to growing an outdoor vegetable garden. It all started innocently enough. Sick of buying the expensive pre-cut and washed basil, I bought a single basil plant. Once I had the satisfaction of using my fresh basil in my cooking, I moved on. And now I grow basil, lemon balm, mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, and parsley. Growing herbs successfully made me feel invincible. Like I could grow anything. And the taste of “fresh” had me hooked. So I had to move on to bigger plants, more addictive plants. Fresh grown tomato plants.
Economically? It just makes sense. Take this price comparison of buying prepackaged herbs versus growing your own:
It just doesn’t seem worth it to buy the packets of fresh herbs when you can have a whole plant! Besides, if you are anything like me, you’ll buy the packet and use the amount your recipe calls for. The extra goes back in the fridge for the next recipe. Except …. you don’t actually have a next recipe in mind. Which means it gets shoved to the back of the fridge until eventually, two weeks later, you find an interesting mold experiment that used to be fresh herbs.
Plants versus Seeds: The quick answer: Plants. Plants don’t have the same light, water and warmth requirements that germinating seeds do. Plus, you will most likely find that the plants you can buy are the right varieties for growing on a windowsill.
Light: How much light do herbs need? As much light as you can give them. South facing windows are best, but any sunny location is the ideal place for your herbs. How will you know if you have enough light? Buy a $3.99 herb and give it a try.
Watering: Herbs require more water than a typical houseplant. However, you do want the soil to dry out between watering. How do you know when to water? Stick your fingers in. Seriously. In gardening – even indoor gardening – you need to get a little soil under your nails. Also, you want to make sure you water at the base of the plant on the soil – not on the leaves of your herbs. This makes no sense to me given that in nature herbs get their water from rain, and it doesn’t rain on the soil only – it definitely hits the leaves. All I know is if your water hits the leaves of the herbs you are growing indoors, you are likely to get mildew. So water the soil.
Pruning: Invest in a pair of kitchen shears or pruning shears for your herbs. Just like with humans – a clean cut has less chance of infection. For herbs like lemon balm, mint, thyme, and oregano, you can cut from the bottom, outside of the plant. Basil is a bit more finicky. You want to trim right above leaf growth about 3 to 4 inches up the plant – like in the above picture. Basil will then form two new stalks right above the cut, like in the picture below.
Food: When you bring your herb home, be sure to pick up a good quality bag of organic potting mix too. When you plant your herb in it’s new pot, it will be happiest if grown in good soil. You’ll also want to periodically feed your herbs with an organic food such as a fish emulsion.
As with any addict, I’m also a pusher. I want everyone to experience the “high” that is cutting a bit of fresh mint for a cup or tea, or making a compound butter with lemon balm and sage and using it to roast a chicken, or even just running your fingers over a fresh rosemary plant to enjoy the fresh scent. So give it a go and I’m willing to bet you’ll become a pusher too.