So it’s twelve degrees and snowing (again), the roads are covered with ice because TDOT can’t keep up, and you have a mad craving for fresh homemade pesto. Rather than sinking into seasonal depression or risking a treacherous trip to the supermarket, you saunter over to your indoor herb garden and harvest away. How smart are you? You brought in your herbs before last year’s first frost and are giving them just what they need to flourish: light, food, and humidity. In return, they are providing you with the perfect ingredient for the perfect pesto.
If you forgot to rescue your herbs before Jack Frost turned them to mush, don’t worry. It’s easy to start most herbs from seeds. Be sure to sow them in porous pots with drainage holes. Most herbs hate wet feet, so clay pots, which allow moisture to seep through the sides, are optimal. If space is an issue, consider planting several herbs in a strawberry pot to create a fun, attractive mini herb garden. Use a light potting mix, and spring for an organic blend if you can.
Place your herbs near a bright window so they can get as much sunlight as possible. Most prefer at least six hours of sun each day. If you don’t have an adequately sunny spot, you may want to invest in a grow light. Set the light no more than six inches from the tops of the plants, and leave it on for eight to ten hours a day if it is the only light source. Depending on your specific conditions, you may need a combination of natural and artificial light to achieve the best results.
Herbs generally like to dry out between waterings, so use your finger or–even better–a moisture meter, and water only when the top one to two inches of soil is dry. Too much water will send your herbs to an early grave, so it’s better to err on the side of too little. Once a week should be enough for most herbs.
When it’s time to give your babies a drink, be sure to use tepid, not cold, water, and mix in a liquid fertilizer at a diluted rate. Fish emulsion is a great organic food for herbs. Yeah, it smells like dead fish–because it is–but the smell dissipates fairly quickly, and your herbs will love you for it. Just apply at half the usual rate–typically, one-and-a-half teaspoons of fish emulsion per gallon of water.
Although herbs like their roots on the dry side, they prefer their foliage on the moist side, and air conditioning and heating units tend to dry out the air in our homes. If your herbs are growing in your kitchen, they should get some humidity from the sink or dishwasher, but it never hurts to supplement those sources with additional humidity every few days. You can mist them, use a pebble tray, or even boil some water on the stove for a while.
The easiest herbs to grow indoors are thyme, marjoram, savory, parsley, sage, chives, and basil. I personally have had great success with ‘African Blue’ basil. I’ve had one plant for several years now, and it’s grown into a nice sized shrub! Rosemary does not thrive indoors, even under optimal conditions, so don’t make yourself crazy trying. Instead, buy winter-hardy varieties, such as Arp or Blue Spire, plant them in the ground, and harvest sparingly during the winter months.
Indoor herbs require a bit more TLC than the ones in your garden, but the rewards are definitely worth it. With just a little effort, you can enjoy fresh herbs all year.