At my house, cooking is the antidote to the winter-time blues. There’s no better way to combat a cold, grey day in January / February because, well because, cooking is fun! Add to the enjoyment, and to the quality of your dishes, by undertaking a bit of indoor herb gardening.
Regardless of the heat source – oven, stovetop or crockpot – there’s nothing quite so homey as stews simmering, sauces bubbling, and those delicious smells drawing family and friends into the kitchen. Whether feeding a crowd, or just hoping to add a little more spice to a salad, fresh herbs are essential.
With herbs, you can create flavorful dishes that make breakfast, lunch, or dinner a special occasion – no easy feat on a typical Tuesday in February! Luckily, home grown fresh herbs can be cultivated indoors, and it is easy and inexpensive, requiring little but a sunny windowsill to get started, and even that can be overcome with grow-lights.
Here’s a list of my favorites for indoor herb gardening –
One of my top picks for herbs to grow indoors is rosemary, and not just for culinary purposes, though it’s a welcome ingredient in dishes like roasted potatoes, chicken, and even baked goods. In addition to its usefulness, I love to inhale its scent in the mornings – its clean, energizing fragrance always perks me right up and it serves as a natural air freshener in the kitchen. Of all the herbs on this list, rosemary may seem almost intimidating. Always popular as a holiday gift, these plants ofter suffer a bit of benign neglect amid all the festivities and enter a new year looking a little worse for wear. Inadequate sunlight is the most common reason for premature rosemary death so be sure to place the plant in a bright, south-facing window where it will receive 6-8 hours of sun every day. If this isn’t possible, use a fluorescent or grow-lamp. Proper watering is also essential. Since rosemary grows slower during the winter months than it does in summer, overwatering should be avoided to prevent roots from rotting. In a container with good drainage, rosemary should only need to be watered when the top layer of soil feels dry. Plants will do fine with average indoor room temperatures, but to avoid powdery mildew, make sure there is plenty of air circulation, (read: don’t situate rosemary in a humid bathroom).
If you’re a fan of hearty winter roasts and stews on chilly winter’s night, (like the shepherd’s pie pictured here), it’s definitely more economical to simply grow your own thyme. Its flavor enhances meats and veggies alike, and it appears so frequently on ingredients lists that you’ll appreciate being able to snip a sprig whenever you need it. To grow indoors, thyme requires at least six hours of sun, and a sandy, well-drained potting mix. Augment regular potting mix with an equal portion of sand or buy a pre-measured cactus potting mix. Similar to rosemary, thyme is a fairly drought-tolerant herb, and doesn’t do well when overwatered. For best results, allow the top inch of soil to dry out between drinks.
Shepherd’s Pie – photo by Sarah Marcheschi
Chives are members of the onion family. They are a handy because they can elevate dishes from omelets at breakfast to baked potatoes at dinnertime. For a real treat, chop them up and blend with butter to make an excellent garlic bread. Chives can be grown indoors, of course, from either seeds or as seedlings. If planted outdoors during the regular season, they also can be moved indoors for the winter by dividing the bedded plants. Keep chives happy in a south-facing window with just 4 – 6 hours of sun each day, in an all-purpose potting soil, with watering 2 – 3 times per week. To harvest, snip leaves as needed, but be sure to leave a couple of inches growth above the soil.