There is nothing better, nor healthier, than having your own fresh herbs to pluck right there in the kitchen – or very close by. An indoor herb garden promises fresh cooking opportunities year-round. So how do you do it? It’s not at all hard as it turns out.
So, where to begin?
Indoor Herb Garden Location
First, locate a west or southwest facing window in your house or apartment. Ideally, you’ll place your herb garden there so, even in the brutal depths of winter, you’ll be able to see your herbs prosper. If you’re living situation is lacking that type of sunlight, fear not. Seek out herbs that need less sunlight or look to augment with grow lights. Keep in mind that to make up for 6 hours of natural sunlight, you will need to give your herbs about 14 hours of artificial light in a 24 hour period.
Where ever you place them, be sure you avoid areas where there are temperature extremes. Your herbs will not be happy with constantly shifting temperature extremes. Avoid drafty windows, hot areas above radiators or places in the path of forced-air heating as this will make for some very unhappy plants. Try to keep the temperature somewhere in the 60 to 70 degree Fahrenheit range. Again, and speaking ideally, the place for your garden will have some sort of air circulation (you can always install a small fan) as moving air helps to keep both bugs and diseases from getting your plants.
Herbs that Grow Well Indoors
Make a list of the herbs you want to grow. Try to group them by “themes”. That is, which need the most sunlight? Which prefer shade? A little organization goes along way in helping your herbs to thrive. I would suggest starting with annual herbs such as dill, basil, chives, mint and parsley in place of the more woody perennials. But I also encourage you to experiment! Sage, oregano and rosemary all do well indoors. Oh and don’t forget, garlic…I’ve had very good results growing garlic in small pots.
Where to Purchase Herbs to Grow Indoors
Herbs for your garden can be obtained from a variety of different places. The local nursery or greenhouse is one but you can also get a number of herbs such as rosemary, mint and thyme from the supermarket. Oftentimes they sell these as little plants meant for you to take home and eat but I like to plant them. My local supermarket, for example, sells basil in small pots. I’ve put these guys in bigger pots, encouraged their growth and used them for loads of yummy pesto over the years. Another option is to start your plants from cuttings or simply buy the seeds and plant them in your pot! If you plan to start your herbs from seeds, seek out the “compact” varieties. These are much easier to grow indoors.
How to Grow Herbs Indoors
Follow the basics of indoor container gardening: quality, well-drained soil (or a mix of vermiculite, peat and perlite), adequate sunlight and watering. Be sure to pick the appropriate plant for the size pot (those little 4 ½ or 6-inch terra cotta pots work nicely for most herbs). You’ll want something that drains well and remember to place your requisite handful of gravel in the bottom of the pot to assist in the drainage.
Watering Indoor Herbs
Once your pots are placed in your sunny window, be sure to keep the soil moist. Not soaking wet but moist. A hand-held mister is good for this. Be very careful not to over water. Potted plants get root rot very easily. To avoid this, let the soil in the pot dry out a little bit before the next watering. You can always stick your finger about an inch into the soil to check the moisture level. It should be damp but not wet.
But actually, you’d be surprised at just how dry your indoor air can be. You’re going to have to be very careful to keep your herbs moist. Another friend of mine with ample counter space has his herbs sitting in pots and the pots sitting in a shallow basin filled with water. The herbs are able to suck up water from the base of the pot and likewise benefit from the evaporating water.
If you do this, don’t let your basin dry out. Other issues can arise from it being too hot or too cold in the house or that your herbs are not getting enough sunlight. I’ve also had a problem with pests taking over my basil. Because there is no winter chill to kill off bugs, you may find your herb garden swarmed with pests. As you would for other indoor plants, create a solution of tepid water and soap and either dip the top of the plant into the solution or use a spray bottle to soak the plant. Be sure to get the solution on the underside of the leaves where the eggs live.
Fertilizing Indoor Herb Gardens
Your herb garden will need to be fertilized. Most experts in indoor gardening recommend a water soluble fertilizer or a fish emulsion that can be added to water. Apply your chosen solution at a quarter of the recommended amount on the package. It’s going to be a thin solution that you put on your garden about once a week. First, water the plant thoroughly, and then apply the solution. Some also recommend a monthly “flushing” of your plants. By “flushing” they mean, taking your plant to the kitchen sink and watering it until the excess water pours out the bottom of the pot. Allow the water to all drain then repeat. This should remove excess salt and mineral buildup.
It is worth noting that there are an amazing number of gadgets out there to help you grow herbs on your kitchen counter. Check out the AeroGarden or Herbkits that’s loaded with a lot of fun stuff for your countertop garden.
So yes, you can go with a kit but my friends David and Ellie (who happen to be blessed with a vastly larger countertop than yours truly) have their incredible little herb garden growing in tiny pots all around the sink and stove. They even grow salad and green chile!
Jim O’Donnell gardens in the mountains of northern New Mexico. A certified permaculture designer and ecological restoration specialist, Jim’s first book Notes for the Aurora Society was published in 2009.