by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
Even though our gardens are nestled beneath a blanket of snow, enjoying their winter nap, we can still enjoy a little indoor windowsill gardening and the taste of fresh herbs right now.
Herbs are plants that are used whole or in part for their flavor. Cooking with herbs has taken on new importance with our awareness of reducing salt and fat in our diets. Their use can be traced back to ancient times. Some of their many other uses include health, fragrance, natural dyes, ornaments and to make industrial or pharmaceutical products.
Many herbs like rosemary, parsley, mint, oregano, chives and thyme are adaptable to growing indoors in a sunny window. You may also like to consider growing some catnip for your little furry friends. Some of these herbs can grow to be quite tall in the garden but they will be much smaller when grown indoors where their root systems can be contained in small pots.
Cuttings can be taken from your outdoor plants such as basil, oregano, sage and mint before they die back for the winter. But many herbs can be grown from seed such as dill, parsley, thyme, anise, basil and cilantro.
Adequate drainage and a good quality potting soil mix will ensure good root development. If your potting soil mix does not include fertilizer, add slow release pellets to your mix or use a water-soluble fertilizer after planting. Do not use garden soil as it is generally too heavy for use in potted plants and can carry diseases and insects that can prove to be too much of a challenge for young sprouts.
A warm, bright spot away from direct sunlight is best for starting your seeds. I have used a heating pad with a plastic cover placed over it under my tray of potted seeds. Once they have germinated, move them to more direct light. Herb plants produce oils that are responsible for their particular flavors. The greatest amount of oil is produced under sunny conditions, so you will want to provide your windowsill herbs with as much light as you can.
Artificial lights can work well to supplement natural light. Light bulbs and/or tubes that are labeled specifically for growing plants will emit the best quality light needed for plant growth.
Once your plants are up and growing, some fertilizing will be helpful, but don’t over do it. Always follow label directions on the particular kind of fertilizer you use. When you water your plants, provide enough water so it runs out the drainage hole in the bottom of your pot. Allow the pot to dry a little before watering next time.
I love to make lasagna during the winter (comfort food) and adding some fresh oregano and basil to it makes it extra good!
Happy (indoor) gardening!
More information is available on line at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs.html. You may also want to check out the website from Ohio State University at http://ohioline.osu.edu/lines/hyg-list.html. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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