Herbal Kitchen Gardens
Try something new! Use this step-by-step guide to create your very own herb garden grown indoors.
It's always a bit sad to see freezing temperatures turn your beautiful garden into a much more barren landscape. Cold weather means outdoor gardening has become rather untenable. However, that doesn't mean that you can't garden at all. It is possible to grow herbs indoors to use for cooking or simple enjoyment in the winter months.
The most intuitive place to grow herbs would be your kitchen. After all, that is where you are most likely to use culinary herbs. Although there are a number of herbs that would be great in the bathroom, where they would be readily available for relaxing baths (likely needed after fall clean up chores or winter snow shoveling). I will give you some ideas on herbs to use for both of these purposes but first we need to go over the basics.
One of the best ways to grow herbs indoors is to put each herb in its own little pot. This will allow you to make sure that each herb is getting the environment it needs to thrive. It will also allow you to easily remove and replace any herb that is no longer performing for you.
The vast majority of herbs thrive in full sun so if you bring them indoors they will need to receive at least 4-6 hours of direct sun every day and even then will do best if given supplemental lighting. Supplemental lighting is needed because the sun in winter isn't as strong so you need to give it a boost. A south or west facing window will be best to start and then add in your supplemental lighting.
Use a soil-less potting medium that has excellent drainage. Many herbs are from Mediterranean climates and they don't like to have wet feet. Make sure that the soil dries between watering but don't allow pots to dry so much that the plants wilt. When you do water make sure you water thoroughly, water should drain out of the bottom of the pot. Avoid over-watering as this will cause the roots to rot. Fertilize plants as you would house plants. If growth slows down decrease the amount you are fertilizing.
Keep watch for any insect invaders on your plants since whiteflies, spider mites, aphids, mealybugs, and thrips all find herbs just as tasty as you do. If you have your plants in small pots it is easy to dip the whole above ground portion of the plant in a bucket of insecticidal soap mixture. Treat as needed and be sure to read and follow the directions on the label of your product.
Deciding which herbs to grow especially if you have limited space might be your biggest challenge. Great culinary herbs to try include true oregano (Origanum vulgare), thymes (Thymus species), sages (Salvia species), sweet bay (Laurus nobilis), chives (Allim schoenoprasum), English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia primarily) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). These herbs are all woody stemmed and like to be kept slightly drier. Annual culinary herbs like cilantro (Coriander sativum), basil (Ocimum basilicum), and mints such as peppermint (Mentha piperita) and spearmint (Menta spicata) will need to be kept slightly more moist and should probably be started new in late summer so you have fresh plants for the winter.
Culinary herbs are great to keep in the kitchen (or whichever southern exposure window is available) where you can easily cut a few sprigs to use in whichever dish you are working on at the moment. Now back to that whole bath idea.
English lavender is sometimes used as a culinary herb but it can also be used to add oil and scent to your bath as can Spanish lavender (L. stoechas). Foliage and flowers in either fresh or dried form can be crushed to get essential oils and whole flowers or leaves can be put into the bath to float around you as you relax. The scent of summer floating on the steam from a hot bath sounds like the perfect way to end a cold winters' day to me.
Sources of Information:
McCreary, Rosemary. Tabletop Gardens. North Adams: Storey Books, 2002. 60-73.
Do It Yourself. Growing Herbs indoors: How to have the flavors of fresh herbs through the winter. Retrieved October 2, 2003 from DoItYourself.com on the World Wide Web: http://doityourself.com/herbs/growingherbsindoors.htm
HGTV. Growing Herbs Indoors. Retrieved October 2, 2003 from Home and Garden Television on the World Wide Web: http://www.hgtv.com/cr/cda/article_print/1.1250.HGTV_3595_1381284.00.html
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Growing Herbs in the Home Garden. Retrieved October 2, 2003 from University of Illinois Extension on the World Wide Web: http://w3.aces.uiuc.edu/NRES/extension/factsheets/vc-44/VC-44.html.
University of Missouri. Growing Herbs at Home. Retrieved October 2, 2003 from University of Missouri Extension on the World Wide Web: http://muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/agguides/hort/g06470.htm