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Winter Herb Gardening

Nothing enhances cooking more than fresh herbs. Once you have incorporated a herb garden into your landscape, and experienced the simple joy of picking the flavors that will bring compliments showering upon you for your culinary expertise, there is no going back.

Ah, but what about winter? Hopefully you have frozen some of your summer crop, but it still is not quite the same as freshly picked herbs. If you haven’t done so before, perhaps this upcoming autumn you will pot up some herbs to bring inside so that you have a year-long garden. If you have a south-facing window, you’re equipped with most of what you need in order to grow an indoor herb garden. Begin with indoor-friendly herbs such as scented geranium, sage, mint, rosemary, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, chives, garlic and oregano. Basil, dill and coriander should be started from seeds, and mint, rosemary and bay leaf should be rooted from cuttings.

If you’re starting with seedlings which you have purchased from the nursery, they will need to be acclimated to lower light conditions. New leaves that are accustomed to the lower light must be produced in order for the plant to survive. Most herbs require an absolute minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight, which a window with southern exposure should provide. Assist with the addition of grow lights, placed about 6 to 9 inches above the tops of the plants. Generally speaking, your herbs will prefer temperatures between 55 and 70 degrees F. However, basil is such a sun and heat lover, it will thrive if given 16 hours of artificial light. I guarantee that the pesto and spaghetti sauce that is seasoned with the fresh basil from your indoor herb garden will make the effort well worth it. Place the plants that need the greatest amount of light in the center of the window, directly beneath the grow lights. Your mint, parsley and rosemary will require less light, therefore they should be placed at the sides, farther away from the strongest point of light.

Use separate pots for each plant; this allows for each plant to have air flow, and if a problem occurs with one plant, it is easily removed from the mix. Unglazed terra cotta is the preferred pot as it is porous, thus allowing moisture and air to pass through. Roots need air, as they are living tissue that needs to respire. If gasses in the root zone are not able to move, and watering prevents the roots from breathing, root rot will set in. So, be sure that there are drainage holes in the bottom of your pots to allow excess water to drain. When first prepping the pots, DO NOT use soil from your garden, no matter how gloriously your gardens grow in it. Instead, use a high-quality potting soil with organic fertilizer mixed in, and add some perlite. Fertilize with a liquid fish emulsion at half strength or a 20-20-20 chemical formulation about once a month. Mist on occasion, particularly rosemary. The conditions inside your house will impact the frequency of watering. Using your finger, check the soil and if it feels dry to the touch, water thoroughly until the water comes out of the drainage holes in the bottom. Herbs such as bay leaf, thyme, oregano and sage should dry out completely between watering while mint, rosemary and scented geranium prefer a little more moisture.

When harvesting from an indoor herb garden, a certain delicacy is called for; because indoor herbs tend to reach for the light and become leggy, it is best to pinch them at the growing tips, thereby forcing a bushier growth form.

Experiment with a light-hearted sense of fun; fresh herbs are by nature givers of a unique flavoring to our cooking. Add to salads, omelettes, even tossing in a few fresh mint leaves in a pot of hot tea to heighten the sapid enjoyment of gustation. Gardening and cooking; two sublime pleasures that anyone may enjoy. Nothing enhances cooking more than fresh herbs. Once you have incorporated a herb garden into your landscape, and experienced the simple joy of picking the flavors that will bring compliments showering upon you for your culinary expertise, there is no going back.

 

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