Last updated on December 2nd, 2011
If you enjoy cooking, and rely all summer on your outdoor herb patch for flavorings, you will also want some pots of herbs indoors in winter. You can grow these with other plants in any sunny window in the house, although the ideal spot is the kitchen, of course, where the herbs will be used. But what if your kitchen windows are sunless, northern exposures like mine? Do you give up on the idea of fresh, home-grown herbs in winter? No way!
To solve my own dull-window-issue, I installed a fluorescent light unit beneath a bank of cabinets, and created a lovely — and prosperous — little herb garden right on my kitchen counter. To raise shorter herbs closer to the light, I set them on glass shelves balanced on inverted pots. Clay pots suit herbs better than plastic ones, and inexpensive “cool white” fluorescents are just as growth-inducing as pricey “full spectrum” or “Gro-Lux” lights.
I’ve found that less than a dozen different herbs make an excellent culinary garden, and whether you grow more than one pot of each depends on your own taste-preference and available space. For the best performance, use young, potted herbs obtained from an herb specialist or a local plant nursery. Herbs that have grown all summer in the open garden are monster-sized, and surgery is required in order to fit them into smallish pots.
Providing they neither dry out nor get too hot, herbs make wonderful houseplants. Daily checking of soil is essential, though rarely daily watering. Herbs do not readily recover from drought, however, and constant wetness is lethal. That’s a nice balance to work out, but not an impossible one if you use a well-draining soil.
Which herbs shall we grow? Well, I suppose we all want parsley, probably two pots of it, since we snip it not only for flavor but decoration, too. (Don’t be afraid to clip all of your parsley; under lights, the plant will completely renew itself in 2-3 weeks). Then we need chives, cut finely and often for soups, salads, and creamy hors d’oeurvres. Basil is a must for spaghetti sauce; ditto for oregano. Be sure to have a pot of thyme for both stuffing and butternut squash soup, and sage for stuffing and frying. Mint, of course, is the secret to fresh-tasting deserts.
Then there is marjoram and something called “winter savory.” But do people actually use these herbs?
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