Start an herb garden right in your own kitchen
The year’s last garden harvests and colder outdoor temperatures come with the arrival of fall. Even though the plants outdoors are retiring for the season, it’s the perfect time to start an indoor garden. A kitchen herb garden is a great way to add fresh flavors to home-cooked meals. Even homes without much space can grow a few favorites on the windowsill. The lively greens will perk up your kitchen all winter long, and you’ll enjoy taking an active role in cultivating your ingredients. If you’re new to indoor herb gardening, here’s everything you need to know.
Best Herbs for Indoors
While most herbs can technically be grown indoors, some varieties do better than others. Avoid herbs that tend to get thick, woody stems or grow into larger bushes. Rosemary and lavender are two popular herbs that are best left outdoors. Your space and growing conditions will also inform your herb choices. Basil and lemon balm, for example, are susceptible to fungus, so they need good air circulation. Thyme is one of the only indoor herbs that needs relatively dry conditions, so keep it away from your damp spots. Mint, flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, and dill are some of the easiest herbs to grow for beginners since they’re not fussy. When choosing your herbs, consider several things: their usefulness in cooking, their aroma, and their appearance. Select the ones that match your tastes in these categories!
Sunlight and Temperature
Most herbs require about six hours of sunlight during fall and winter. In most locations, you’ll need to place your herb garden in west- or south-facing windows for enough winter light and warmth. If your kitchen doesn’t have this exposure, consider using artificial grow lights as a supplement. Make sure that artificial lights are at least six inches above the leaves. Plants under artificial light need more prolonged daily exposure, up to 14 hours in some cases. Rotate your plants weekly to ensure they get sun exposure evenly.
In addition to choosing a proper location for temperature and sunlight, you should consider your plants’ humidity needs. Avoid sites that are drafty or directly under air vents. Add some moisture to the garden if you live in a drier area (or have the heater on 24/7). It may be tempting to spray your herbs with water, but some plants develop fungal infections when their leaves are too wet. A better solution is to place a tray with stones underneath your pots, then fill it with water. This ambient moisture will help keep your herbs happy on dry days.
Pots and Soil
Most herbs like evenly moist soil, so typical potting soil from the nursery will work. Consider purchasing organic soil if you plan to use these herbs for cooking. Make sure that your pots have suitable drainage holes. You can drill extra holes if necessary. Herbs grow until they fill their space, so larger pots give you larger plants. When you see roots poking through the drainage holes, it’s time to re-pot.
Herb Garden Kits
If accounting for these environmental factors seems like more than you can handle, consider using a countertop herb kit. Many of these systems include lights, soil, and watering techniques that make growing beautiful herbs simple. Some products, like the AeroGarden and Click and Grow, use hydroponics to grow the herbs (no soil!). Others, like kits from Veritable, provide soil pods and lights. Many higher-end models can sync with apps so that you can water and monitor lights remotely. When researching countertop growing kits, consider your available space, access to an outlet, and overall aesthetics.
Harvesting and Care
Indoor plants will never grow as prolifically as those planted outdoors. Don’t worry if your herbs seem less vibrant on the windowsill than in the garden bed. However, with proper harvesting and care, your indoor herbs can flourish. Most herbs can be trimmed for use once they’re 3-4 inches tall. The more you prune your herbs, the thicker the plant will grow. Cutting any stalks that are starting to produce flowers is especially important. Once an herb grows buds, most of its energy goes into maintaining the flowers rather than producing more leaves.
Ultimately, the best kitchen herb garden is the one you’ll frequently use for cooking and enjoy as decoration in your space.
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