Which passionate hobby cook doesn’t love the convenience of fresh herbs at home? Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the luxury of having a lush backyard in which to grow herbs. For apartment dwellers, options are limited, though not entirely out of reach. All you need is a balcony or a sunny windowsill, and the willingness to expand your horticultural horizon. Just like cooking, though, gardening (whether it’s indoor or outdoor) requires a bit of skill and effort. Many people, like yours truly, have learned this the hard way after failing to keep store-bought plants alive for more than a week.
So what’s the best way to approach an indoor herb garden? Instead of buying a plant in the super market, Dr. Moshiri recommends growing them yourself. Sure, it takes a lot more time – usually a couple months – and effort, but it pays off in the long run, as the plants tend to grow stronger and more resilient. Contrary to common wisdom, soil with a low nutrient concentration is used during the seeding phase. “In the beginning it is very important for the roots to search for nutrients in the soil. The roots have to develop first”, he explained. Just ask at your local garden center for the right soil and potting mix.
The seeds don’t need much space. So you can either plant multiple seeds in a large pot or small 6 inch pots for individual seeds. Sprinkle seeds on the dampened soil and cover the container with plastic wrap to keep moist. Keep the soil moist until the seedlings begin to poke through. Once they have grown about 2 – 4 inches tall, gently remove them and place them with their roots spread out in a larger container. Water them immediately to help them settle. Be sure to use pots with drainage holes. Also use a saucer to avoid making a mess on your windowsill.
But don’t go overboard on watering. “Most herbs die, when they’re being watered too often”, Moshiri warned me. Many of them, such as rosemary, basil, thyme, sage or oregano are low-maintenance, since they are native to rather dry and sunny climates. Mint on the other hand, needs – especially in summer – daily watering. “Otherwise they develop a bitter taste”, said Mr. Moshiri. Keep in mind though that herbs dry out quicker indoors when the heat is on in the winter. Spray them with water to keep them fresh.
When positioning your herbs, try to place them at a window facing south or southwest to ensure a maximum amount of sunlight during the day. Some herbs like basil, chives, and parsley prefer more shady spots though.
“Pruning is another very important aspect that many people tend to overlook. A good gardener needs to have two things: a cold heart and a sharp pair of scissors”, said Moshiri. Herbs need to be pruned on a regular basis to ensure a healthy growth. This especially rings true for basil. In order to grow them to the maximum height and end up with the bushiest plant possible, wait for them to have at least three sets of leaves and cut them right above the second set. Repeat the process every 3 weeks or so. The more you prune, the bushier they will become. You can tell that the plant is about to die once the buds are flowering. However, you can keep the plant for longer if you cut off the buds before they bloom.
Use fertilizer every other month to ensure growth. Moshiri, however, strongly cautions against mineral fertilizer and recommends using organic ones such as horn meal or stinging nettle instead: “Just throw some in a bucket of water and let it sit for a week or two. It might reek a bit, but it’s the best you can give your plants.”
Published on June 26, 2016